Stokvel meetings move to WhatsApp because of lockdown
The national lockdown to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus has prohibited gatherings which resulted in many stokvels moving their meetings to online platforms such as WhatsApp.
For many people, stokvels are not just hubs for savings and financial security, but they offer a social life and community. Every month, most stokvels gather on a specific date to either discuss or pay their monthly contributions.
The lockdown has forced stokvels to rely on WhatsApp for communication and it has become a virtual place for meetings. Launched in 2009, WhatsApp is the most used social media platforms in South Africa.
Some black women’s savings stokvels, such as Focused Women Savings Club, have moved their meetings onto the platform and are embracing their new reality of virtual meetings. The stokvel even encourages members to dress up as they normally would for their gatherings and share pictures with the group.
They also report on finances and the treasurer shares the financial statement and gives the group updates. In these WhatsApp meetups, they first ensure that all members have paid their monthly contributions or discuss any payment problems members may be experiencing. Members use voice notes to check in with each other and it’s also a time for socialising.
“At first, the WhatsApp group created confusion because there were too many messages and voice notes in the group. But we decided we needed someone to chair the WhatsApp group for better coordination,” Nthabiseng Mhlabase, who is a member of the Focused Women Savings Club, says.
“We have rules regarding the group, we decide on the day we meet virtually on the agenda, and when we are done with that, we check on each other emotionally,” she adds.
Tshebedisano, a grocery stokvel in Dlamini township in Soweto, now relies on WhatsApp for its monthly meetings and communication. There are over 150 members who are divided into different WhatsApp groups for better administration. Before lockdown, stokvel members would meet monthly. Although they miss their get-togethers, they find meeting virtually more convenient and cost-saving.
“I like the WhatsApp approach because previously if you missed the monthly meetings then you would have to rely on hearing it from other people. The WhatsApp group allows us to get documents sent to us and we can look at them in the comfort of our homes without thinking about attending a meeting,” Tshebedisano member Phindile Dlamini says.
However, concerns over data security and scams have also surfaced as stokvels embrace WhatsApp. Digital security activist Murray Hunter says communication on a WhatsApp group is protected from being intercepted, but it doesn’t prevent members from taking screenshots or forwarding messages to other people.
Hunter further warns that stokvel members should be aware of WhatsApp scammers that hijack cellphone numbers and WhatsApp accounts through number porting.
“The scammers could take over your identity in the WhatsApp groups and could gain access to the chats and text messages,” he adds.
Stokvel members should enable the pin activation under settings and activate two-step verification, he urges.
“You can create a six-digit PIN in WhatsApp, without which it should be impossible for someone to steal your identity.”