Wits rowing club makes a splash 

The Wits University’s rowing club has their sights set on a strong end to the 2023 season. 

The Wits Rowing club has made it to the fifth out of 10 positions at the University Sports South Africa rowing sprint championships at Mis Verstand dam, in Cape Town this past weekend.  

Wits rowing chairperson Malose Makwea and Jason Westman won gold in the men’s lightweight pair category, in a time of 3 mins and 36 secs. The lightweight category allows for each contestant to weigh 70kgs, and there is no person steering (coxswain). The pair defeated the University of Pretoria, which was trailing behind by just six seconds, along with three other teams.

The two also came second in the men’s lightweight double, which does not consider the participant’s weight.

Unfortunately, the women’s team was not able to get any medals in this competition, however, their captain Amy Cooper said that “everyone gained important experience, especially those new to racing.” Meanwhile, Makwea said: “the team spirit is very high, and people want to do better, which is good.” 

Wits Sport rowing officer Tebogo Rabothata said that he is happy with the consistency of the club and he is hoping for podium finishes at the end of the year. “We really need to up our game [going forward] to finish top two or three.” He added by saying that as training increases, so will the depth of the club. 

The team at Wits is predominantly made up by those who are new to the sport. This is referred to as ‘novice rowers’, which consists of rowers who have less than one year of rowing experience.  

Deborah Cronje, who steers the boat describes rowing for the club as extremely fulfilling, with the team consistently developing. “We are largely a novice team, with [the club] winning the development award at the previous boat race,” said Cronje. 

Members that the Wits Vuvuzela spoke to added that it is the culture of the Wits rowing that separates it from other clubs and contributes to the rower’s growth. “Unlike high school, or other university rowing environments, we focus on enjoying the sport,” said men’s captain Troy van der Westhuysen, adding that “with [enjoying the sport] comes growth.”   

Across the board, those involved with the club are looking to recruit more Witsies to row, regardless of experience level.  

Currently the club is busy with preparations ahead of the Gauteng and South African Championships, which will be taking place this month.  

Gauteng championships will take place on the 14th – 15th, whilst the South African Championships will take place on April 28th to the 29th at Roodeplaat dam. From the 7th to the 12th of September, the club will also take part in Boat Racing in Port Alfred, Eastern Cape. The club is hoping to send two men’s and two women’s teams to these competitions. 


The Wits Rowing club’s ladies team on the water at USSA sprints. Photo: Wits Rowing


Totally oar-some!

“It’s really just a big party for everyone involved.”

That’s how Stevan Johnson of the Wits rowing club describes varsity regattas.

“You don’t row the whole day, so you socialize with other universities… Everybody is just chilled…And then they switch on as soon as they get on the water, they get serious…and they do their thing.”

The Wits rowers “did their thing” at the University Sports South Africa sprint regatta, which was held at the Vanderkloof Dam in the Northern Cape on April 23 and 24.

Five Witsies were picked for the blues and grudge crews, made up of the top 16 rowers in the competition. The blues crew is the elite group, and they are challenged to a race by the grudge crew, which is the next best group of rowers.

In the women’s section, Maxine Pinto, Claudia Hazelwood and Jen Brensted-Smith all made the grudge crew.

Pinto said she was honoured to have been chosen.

“Many incredibly talented rowers put in enormous amounts of effort and time to try and make the blues and grudge selections.”


Fun-loving Witsies Graham Rex (left) and Mike Marshall proved that they are among the best varsity rowers in South Africa.

Work hard, play hard

In the men’s section, Graham Rex was chosen for the blues crew.

“My first year, I wasn’t chosen for a top crew. My second year and third year, I made grudge, and this year I was chosen for blues. So I’m quite chuffed with myself.”

He rewarded himself after the regatta.

“We had a good party that night. We really celebrated!”

Selection for blues and grudge is based on results during the regatta, as well as a rower’s performance during the ergo rowing machine time trials held before the regatta. Mike Marshall, who will row for the grudge crew, said he had done very well in the trials at the University of Johannesburg earlier this year.

The blues and grudge race normally takes place at the end of the regatta, but it was postponed, due to failing light and stormy weather. The race will now be held at the South African championships in East London early next month.

Tough times

The Wits team competed against 10 universities – including UJ, UCT, UKZN, Rhodes, Stellenbosch and Tuks – in races in different divisions.

Overall, the men’s team came fifth. The women’s team came fourth, missing the third-place position by just two points.

The rowers Vuvuzela spoke to felt that they could have done better if they had had a coach.

“We can’t look for a full-time professional coach because we just don’t have enough money.”

The club hopes to have a coach soon, since a Johannesburg advocate has expressed interested in coaching them on a voluntary basis.


Row SA

FISA, the international rowing federation 

London Youth Rowing charity