Rotary in the time of Covid-19


The Rotary Club of Somerset West inducted its new president just at the time that South Africa was moved to lockdown level 3 in the fight against the global coronavirus pandemic.

The 115-year-old Rotary organisation has moved with agility to compensate for the restrictions that have come about because of social distancing requirements in the time of the pandemic.

This was richly evident in the induction ceremony of Eppie McFarlane, the new president of the 65-year-old club.

Normally something of a gala affair involving dinner, speeches and members from neighbouring clubs in the area, the induction took place on the front lawn of the outgoing president, Dave Hawes’s home, following strict social distancing principles, and witnessed by just two people.

Speaking after the induction ceremony, Ms McFarlane commented on how social distancing had impacted Rotary’s normal activities, and how clubs have pivoted rapidly to continue with their community work, while adhering strictly to social distancing guidelines as specified by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“Many of our members are fairly and squarely in the at-risk age-cohort of contracting Covid-19.

“We usually meet weekly at our clubhouse, but this is of course not possible because of social distancing requirements and also because the clubhouse has been occupied since the beginning of lockdown by Helderberg Society for the Aged (HSFA) staff,” Ms McFarlane said.

“We can’t afford to let the very necessary movement restrictions bring a halt to what Rotary stands for – fellowship and providing support and assistance to the vulnerable in our community.

“Instead of our weekly clubhouse meetings, we now hold virtual meetings instead. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it has worked out remarkably well.

“An added benefit is that some of our swallow members – those who spend part of the year in South Africa and part of the year overseas – are able to attend our meetings, from a garden in England, or a home in Holland.

“If we ever get back to what used to be normal clubhouse meetings, virtual attendance will be possible,” she said.

“Our members are accustomed to engaging directly with the community in the execution of our various projects, but of course that is no longer possible which has caused us to have to rethink our modus operandi.

“One of our major focuses right now is helping to feed the many hungry people in our community through Helderberg Ubuntu Feeds (“Partnering to feed the needy”, Bolander, April 15, “Helderberg Ubuntu Feeds grows”, Bolander, May 13).

“Once lockdown is over, there will still be hungry people out there, so although this project came about as a result of lockdown, it will remain a focus for us in the long-term.”

Rotary’s theme for the year is “Rotary opens opportunities” – which Ms McFarlane believes shows the way forward for her year as president.

“This pandemic has highlighted the extreme inequality in our society, which places on us an even greater obligation to make a difference, to work for change, and to help the vulnerable.

“In order to do that, we need to grow our membership, not only in numbers but also in diversity, age, and gender. This will be a principal focus for me.”

Traditionally, Rotary membership has been by invitation, but that is changing.

“We want people from all walks of life, who seek fellowship and an opportunity to serve, to come forward, knock on our door, and find out more about Rotary,” Ms McFarlane said.

For more information about the Rotary Club of Somerset West, contact Ms McFarlane on