With the pandemic halting campus contact lectures and on campus activities, campus societies and organisations have been hard hit due to the lack of contact with not only their members, but also with possible new members.
Student societies and organisations have not had the opportunities of O-Week and the first weeks of the semester to market their societies to new students and promote their values and goals. This has left them with the responsibility of keeping student life alive on virtual platforms. On 5 April 2021 the SRC member for student societies, Hannah Le Roux, shared on the SRC social media platforms that the registration of student societies is delayed until a new website is developed to facilitate online registration.
On 25 April the SRC confirmed that “students will be able to register [for societies] in the week following Freedom Day” and that the website “is ready for use with the potential of being developed and improved throughout the year”. The website has “not been perfected”, but the SRC say that there are features in place to “mitigate the possibility of something going wrong” regarding student details, passwords and student numbers.
Despite the registration delays and the lack of contact sessions, societies continue their activities. Some have shifted to online meetings on platforms like Zoom (UP RAG), or Discord (Tuks UP&OUT).
RAG has training programs like the Kagiso training programme, which educates students on the essence of community engagement. RAG chairperson, Busisiwe Yabo, says that “hosting online events has been the new establishment, but [it is] very hard”. Yabo explains that “as much as [RAG] [tries] to accommodate everyone, it seems impossible because people don’t have certain resources” to access physical events. Digital and virtual events have limitations, as “people are willing to participate but not fortunate enough to have data and [the] network to do so”. Yabo adds that attracting interest for virtual events is also challenging as people are tired of “the new norm of online”. As RAG continues activities online, Yabo ensures students that “UP RAG is still continuing to adhere to COVID-19 rules and regulations by keeping events digital. As much as we want the feel of a physical event, […] the lives of people matter to us and we can’t risk it.” The Kagiso training programme will begin on 17 May, while the RAG Transformation Seminar will be on 25 May. More information can be found at @up_rag.
UP&OUT hold discussion meetings twice a week where they discuss current topics as they relate to the queer community, and have laucnhed their Round Table Talks on Discord from 23 April. Students can find them at @tuks_ upandout on social media.
Student culture also continues online with Stuku, who launched episode 1 of “The STUKU Lockdown” on their social media platforms. The series covers “all things Stuku”, with the first installment covering “Nothing But Vernac and Expression”. The event is an annual themed art event for all students at UP. This year’s theme was “What does freedom mean to you?”, and ran from 26 to 28 April. Stuku also presented the Student Culture Debating Championship over Discord from 23 to 25 April. Students can follow Stuku’s events at @stuku_at_tuks.
Another UP structure, Greenline UP, is a student-led environmental organisation that has recently had a litter up/scavenger hunt at the Faerie Glen Nature Reserve. Greenline UP has also run an initiative to attract volunteers to feed the feral UP campus cats, who serve as pest control, and confirm they are in the process of interviewing applicants. Greenline UP say they “were happy to get more than 100 applicants – 121 in total”. While UP supplies the food for the cats, Greenline UP recruited volunteers to travel to the different campuses and feed the resident rodent control. They say that Elmar, the staff member who looks after the cats, says “it takes approximately 7hrs in a day to get to all the cats”. Greenline UP adds that it is “quite hard to build a bond with these cats because they are scared of [people]” and so they hope to find “dedicated students to feed these cats” on a regular basis. Tuks Camerata has also been able to continue their structure activities and sang the national anthem at the Varsity Cup matches on 5 April.
Involvement in student organisations continues despite the pandemic, and provides students with a community and allows people to interact with other students and issues that society faces, beyond only academic spaces.
Due to the lack of contact, most societies have utilised social media to spread their message and get in touch with students, with most societies at UP having Instagram as their primary means of contact. Yabo, from UP RAG, asserts that they “are working hard to ensure that the events are inclusive, fair and fun”, as well as safe. Students can get in touch with RAG, UP&OUT, STUKU, Greenline UP, Tuks Camerata and other structures on social media platforms and through the DSA.