MCSA Vision 2015 (and beyond)

The following is a report back on the Open Debate that took place regarding the MCSA in Johannesburg last July

The world has changed so much in the last 10 to 15 years, that what worked for a club then may not necessarily work now.  The MCSA Johannesburg Section and possibly MCSA National is at a crossroads.  There needs to be change.  We need to keep all the good our club has to offer, but also we need to move with the times.

On Wednesday, the 23rd July 2014, the MCSA Johannesburg Section hosted a debate at its clubhouse to discuss a number of burning issues.  The event was facilitated by Terry White, who is a past Chairman of the Section.  Apart from his sound knowledge of the MCSA and the Johannesburg Section specifically, he also has professional experience in facilitating debates and workshops of this nature.  The event went very well, with most of the top brass of the MCSA present. This included two past Presidents, Roland Magg and Paul Fatti, and the current President Petro Grobler.  There were at least six past Section Chairmen, and the current Johannesburg Section Chairman Dobek Pater, as well as the current Magaliesberg Section Chairman John Fetcher.  Many of the current Committee members of these two Sections were also present.  The points raised were mostly relating to where the Johannesburg section is at present, but this could very easily apply to the MCSA on a National level.

The spirit of the event was very good, with everybody being positive, keen to see progress made, and hear what others have to say.  In general, all the contributions and comments were very valuable and in good taste.  In particular, input from the young crowd present was very helpful in beginning to define the way forward.

The event started with Neil Margetts presenting the Crag Count – a census on the number of visits to sports crags around Gauteng, based on data from sign-in registers, booking records and permit records.  The report showed there to be over 15 000 visits to sport crags and under 1 000 visits to trad crags during 2012.
An estimate of over 2 000 individual active sport climbers and under 150 individual active trad climbers was suggested as accounting for the 15 000 visits.  This clearly indicated a possible ratio of 90% sport and 10% trad climbers in this region.  This did not take into account the very large hiking fraternity but did give an indication of where and how the current climbing population climb.

Next, Roland Magg presented the results of a national survey which was done in 2008.

  • The survey consisted of about 75% MCSA members (national) and 25% non-members; approximately 80% male and 20% female.
  • Most of the participants were between the ages of 25 and 45 years old.

On the question of the value of the club, the highest rankings were related to the MCSA having influence at a national level on mountain-related issues, provision of search and rescue services, purchase of land and conservation.
Also included in the high ranking was the need to facilitate climbing and hiking activities, and to be a repository for data, such as guides.
To the question of how best the MCSA were to grow, the proposed solution was by acquisition/merging of other groups and actively persuing recruitment of additional members.

Finally, the impression on the image of the club was as follows:

  • 29.0% of the respondents saw it as being exclusive
  • 28.5% as being old “fuddy duddy”
  • 38.0% as solid experienced
  • 4.5% as progressive, happy and vibrant

The debate commenced after these two presentations, with great enthusiasm under Terry’s facilitation.  The debate raised a lot of issues that have been discussed out many times before and some interesting new ones.  The following is a summary of the discussion and key outcomes on the topics debated.

What the MCSA should aim to achieve?


Some of the issues raised as to the possible reasons why the club may have lost its appeal to the climbing/hiking community were as follows:

  • Many years ago the pattern was that if a person wanted to learn how to climb or do serious hiking, one would join the club and through a process of a long mentorship the person would learn these skills.  However today with the availability of climbing gyms, easy to learn sport climbing, and the many hiking facilities available, this mentoring service of the club has become redundant.
  • The other aspect discussed was that the current appearance and image of the club do not reflect the current trend which includes a lot of powerful visual and social media marketing.
  • There is also the social need, where like minded mountain people meet and share stories.  It was felt that this should be very much more part of what the club is.

Does the MCSA meet the need of the climbing community?

The perception of the MCSA in general was that it meets the needs of trad climbers very well, but has little relevance to boulderers, sport climbers, competition climbers and gym climbers.  The youth have not much idea of what the club has to offer them, and they perceive the club to be there only for the older trad climbers and mountaineers.

What stops people from becoming a member?

It was proposed that the process of joining the club is too cumbersome, and it is also expensive for young people.

How can the MCSA attract younger people?

The main points raised here were:

  • Change the current club venue to one that is more attractive and conducive to socialising.
  • Become more closely associated to the existing climbing gyms.
  • Become more ‘electronic’ in terms of interaction with its members and the wider community.
  • Offer different ‘levels’ of membership and lower the entry fees.
  • Have a regular weekly training event, such as what the Magaliesberg Section has at the LC De Villiers wall at the Pretoria University.
  • Draw to the club the many already well-known active climbers who have been intending to join the club for many years (but have never taken this step).

Should the MCSA joining procedure be changed?

Opinions were divided on this topic.

  • One side proposed to leave the current system as is, but do more effective and professional promotion of the club.
  • The other side proposed to drop all the membership application screening procedures and have an online membership system, like the BMC and other international organisations.


The essential detail what one can conclude from the evening is as follows:

  • We need to formulate a clear vision for the club.
  • We need to make changes to the club venue.
  • We need to add more of a social feel to the club and its activities.
  • We need to be closer associated with other groups with similar interests.
  • We need to revise the club joining procedure.
  • We need to have one day a week standing event at a climbing wall.
  • We need to have a youth strategy.
  • We need to relook at our online presence.
  • We need to outsource some of the club activities (e.g., the Youth programme, Competitions) to people who are “professionals” in these areas and in the process can generate some income for themselves through these activities.

Furthermore, possibly the root of a lot of the diminished interest in the club is the fact that the MCSA is a volunteer-driven organisation, but nowadays people have much less spare time to attend club events and manage club activities as enthusiastically as they had done in the past.  The proposal to “outsource” some of the activities / remunerate individuals for performing certain club tasks, rather than rely mainly on volunteers, could be a more effective way forward.
The club practices this already to a limited extent.  However, greater use of remuneration for work may imply higher club membership fees.  A model worthwhile exploring is where individuals directly involved in an activity pay a person to facilitate this activity, e.g., youth paying a trained guide for week-end youth activities.

Terry concluded the event by proposing that the Johannesburg Section Committee spend the next few months formulating a vision for 2015 for the section, and develop a possible plan of action to address the above 9 needs.
Another club meeting would follow in November where the Committee would present the new plan of action to all members and non-members to get excited about the club again and together run with the new vision.

Perhaps other sections may want to follow this example as well.

Neil Margetts
MCSA Johannesburg Section


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7 Responses to MCSA Vision 2015 (and beyond)

  1. Franz Fuls Aug 5, 2014 at 12:45 pm #

    Looks like a move in the right direction. I like the concept of a very inclusive MCSA!

    A couple of years ago I tried to get a climbing club going in Ermelo. I was the only climber at the beginning, with hordes of schoolkids surrounding me. Quite a scary concept.
    The effort failed because this was too much for one person to handle. If it was easy back then to get support from the MCSA then the club could have produced some great climbers. Main obstacle was bureaucracy.

    Please make it easy for new groups to:
    i. get involved
    ii. be mentored.

    Please help climbers in remote parts of the country, and make it easy for them to help you. I am looking forward to the changes coming!

  2. Allyson Towle Aug 5, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

    I would be very interested in joining and becoming a regular member under these conditions and also very happy to assist in anyway ito of marketing/admin etc.
    thank you

  3. Byron Taylor Aug 6, 2014 at 11:12 am #

    The discussion is well directed. And I appreciate all the effort MCSA has applied to it’s growth for the future. I’m afraid I’m one of those members who don’t make time to go to meetings and clean-ups etc due to jealous work commitments. So please weigh these words accordingly: Club meets: Literally at our current club: Please send a mass email to determine what percentage would be interested in club meets, how many times in a year they would perceive themselves going, before MCSA uproots the current clubhouse.
    :When joining I appreciated the “credit” system of obtaining my membership (going out with meet leaders). It exposed me to the other parts of MCSA. I ashamedly use it 100% for sports climbing. But I feel the awareness factor of what MCSA can provide for it’s members is valuable “word of mouth” experience that merely paying subs can’t buy.


    Will do my best to attend the November feedback!

  4. CandiceB Aug 6, 2014 at 2:48 pm #

    These are excellent steps. Happy to see the progress.

  5. Garron Aug 6, 2014 at 5:56 pm #

    BMC probably gets most it’s membership because members get cheap health insurance that covers climbing in Europe (please correct me if this has changed). Also access to some crags is strictly for BMC members (I do not like this).

    Another way BMC advertises is by making posters about training, bouldering, how to belay, how to lead etc. for putting up in climbing gyms. I think MCSA has started doing this(?)

    I would like see an anti-social membership option for people that do not want to go to meets or slideshows etc. but would like to contribute to the bolting fund and towards facilitating access and to get some of the MCSA perks that the members enjoy.

  6. Jeremy Colenso Aug 8, 2014 at 12:29 am #

    For what it is worth I think the MCSA seriously needs to decide whether it wants to remain a ‘club’ or become a realistic representative body for mountaineering in South Africa. Sorry this is a bit of an essay but I have personal experience of the various options which may inform the debate:

    In the UK you have the Alpine Club which has a couple of South African members (myself, Rob Powell and Sibusiso Vilane included) which is your achetypical specialist organisation catering strictly for the needs of Alpinists, mountain writers and mountain artists. Membership is by nomination and you have to have climbed X number of mountains in the Alps to qualify. I like being a member because I can obtain information about obscure bits of rock and glacier and get outwalked (and climbed) by men in their 60’s who climbed the Eiger in their 20s, which gives me inspiration. It isn’t for everyone, but happily, as a club, it is a member of a much bigger organisation called the British Mountaineering Council.

    The role of the BMC (of which the Alpine Club and a myriad of other clubs, commercial climbing walls and private individuals are members of) is to work at government level to promote the interests of mountaineers within the UK and abroad.

    I had dinner with Nick Colton (Deputy CEO of the BMC) 2 years ago in Chamonix. Anticipating then that the MCSA was rapidly approaching a crossroads I actually asked him specifically how the BMC had got to the point it was at now i.e. had it been a conscious decision at a specific point in its history to start selling travel insurance, open its doors to everyone, develop online shopping etc etc. I didn’t get a particularly straight answer but that is because I think he genuinely thought it was not a specific decision, at a particular point in time, by the people in charge. He emphasised that it has been very much a gradual process (20 plus years) driven by the various regions and clubs that make up the BMC. Knowing how slow change can be in the UK, and how organically organisations solidly develop, I have no reason to doubt his reasoning that he had inherited, and was the now current custodian of a continually evolving process to keep up with the times.

    The problem, as I see it, with South Africa is that there isn’t the luxury of the same amount of time to change. This debate has been left too long and the future direction of the MCSA is actually now a crisis precisely because it has done very little to embrace the changes in the world we have seen in South Africa and world in the last 20 years.

    If you ask me I would say that the most critical outcome of this inertia within the MCSA, and the one which now really affects outdoor enthusiasts in South Africa the most, is access. The fact is, that recreation in the outdoors only exists as an activity if it is accessible, free and hopefully safe from criminal activity. All I see happening in South Africa is more and more red tape and a supine Mountain Club that has carved out various land and permit deals for a small clique of membership who will gradually whither away as they run out of volunteers. I think the MCSA needs to grow some testicles, massively increase its membership base and become a realistic force at a government level to ensure reasonable access to uncultivated land for outdoor recreation for all South Africans.

  7. Dave D Dec 31, 2014 at 11:38 am #

    I believe that the primary objective of the MCSA should be to represent mountain users to local, provincial and National government with the aim to secure access for mountain users.

    The function of mentoring and coaching beginners has shifted to the commercial realm of climbing guides and gyms.

    We need to move away from the “my type of climbing/walking is more important than yours” debate and focus on protecting the mountains we all love and facilitating sustainable access to them.

    What Jeremy says makes sense. The MCSA needs to move away from being a ‘club’ and become more of a representative counsel that can speak on behalf of mountain users. To do this they need a large and varied membership base including all types of people who enjoy spending time in the hills.

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