The Positive Side of South African Chess
Photo: David Petersen on Pixabay

The Positive Side of South African Chess

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A big focus in South African chess this year has been the drama and uncertainty surrounding Chess South Africa (CHESSA) leadership, and it is likely that most of us involved in chess have, at some point, felt despondent regarding the current and future situation of chess in South Africa.

Unfortunately, the negativity often overshadows the positive things that have been happening (of which there are many). With this post, I hope to highlight some of the exciting South African chess news that I’ve seen in 2019.

Sports awards

Banele at the Mpumalanga Sports Awards Prize Giving
Banele Mhango at the Mpumalanga Sports Awards. Photo: Mandla Khoza
  • Minentle Miya (8) from Gauteng won the School Sports Star category of the 2019 gsport Awards. She also won the Most Promising Athletes category of the 2019 Gauteng Sports Awards, where Caleb Levitan (9), another chess player, was also a finalist.
Minentle at the World Cadet Chess Championship 2019
Minentle Miya at the World Cadet Chess Championship 2019. Photo: supplied by Eazy Tshabadira
  • Chess also had a number of finalists in the Cape Town Metro Sports Awards, namely Sidwell Mayekiso (Sport Community Builder of the year), Tezihano Mnyasta (Newcomer of the year), Craig Willenberg (Coach of the year), and Calvin Klaasen (Sportsman of the year). Although none of the finalists won their categories, they were up against tough competition such as Chad le Clos and Desiree Ellis, the Banyana Banyana coach.

These awards or nominations are commendable achievements for the individuals and should also be seen as a “win” for the chess community – apart from placing chess on equal footing with other sports, it also creates more awareness of chess in South Africa. Promising young players and coaches/community builders also augur well for the future of South African chess.

Sponsorship

Amahle Zenzile is one of the up-and-coming young stars of the Crossroads Chess Club. Earlier this year, the chess community and sponsors like CondorGreen bonded together with the help of Back-a-Buddy to raise R15000 for her to compete in the SA Junior Closed Chess Championships, where she qualified for her national colours. Her numerous chess achievements have earned her a notebook sponsorship from ProsperIS and admission to Curro Durbanville, which frequently dominates school chess events.

Amahle holding two trophies
Amahle Zenzile. Photo: Supplied by Thando Hlakula

Amahle’s achievements are indicative of not only her hard work, but also of the wonderful work people like coach Thando Hlakula are doing for the chess community, as well as what can be achieved when sponsorships are able to reduce the financial barrier faced by many South African players.

Tlale Queening Chess Foundation (Insta: @tlalequeening)

Tlale Queening Foundation Banner

This exciting new foundation is the brainchild of the Tlale family: Pulane, Seadimo and WIM Tshepang Tlale, and it aims to bring chess to schools, especially in disadvantaged or township communities. The launch (initially scheduled for the 19th of October, but currently postponed) will feature a rapid team event, a simul with WIM Tshepang Tlale, a blitz tournament, and a prize-giving gala dinner. This ambitious event offers total prize money of R175 500 plus a R100 000 donation of educational chess material, and 20 lessons with WIM Tshepang. To achieve this and raise funds for the foundation, the foundation does something that is, in my opinion, underutilised by the chess community: it reaches out for commercial sponsorship, and it promises to be a big event, for a good cause, that should generate sufficient publicity to attract sponsors.

Although not explicitly stated as its goal, the foundation also seeks to encourage women’s participation in chess, organising free chess lessons for women, by women, on Women’s day and by stipulating that teams in the launch event have at least one woman player. There are also special prizes for women players, and the best all-woman teams.

The development of woman players, development of school chess, and the building of partnerships with corporate sponsors will all be beneficial to the chess community, and I hope the Tlale Queening Foundation will be successful in its goals, and well-supported by the chess community.

Western Province League and DCAS Sponsorship

Chess Western Province (CWP) has been making a noticeable effort to increase the visibility of chess, one example being the promotional video for the 2019 Western Province League. The league itself is another big positive for chess, boasting approximately 80 teams and close to 900 players from all walks of life, with a large number of female and/or junior players playing in this year’s development section.

CWP also partnered with the City of Cape Town and the Department of Culture and Sports (DCAS) for the 2019 league; these partnerships resulted in free use of the Proteaville and Sarepta Recreation Centres for the entire league, sponsorship of medals for all 2019 league participants, sponsorship of trophies and medals for prize winners, and use of the City of Cape Town’s DGT boards and chess clocks for the league.

Additionally, CWP will be assisting with chess training and education at the City of Cape Town Recreational hubs (which will further grow chess in Cape Town), and DCAS has provided a R70 000 grant to CWP for Admin, Capacity Development and Development and is providing assistance with transport, attire and equipment to the Crossroads and Kraaifontein Chess Clubs.

The increase in popularity and visibility of chess, along with the financial support (especially targeted at development) are all promising signs for the future of Western Province Chess.

Thumbs up with South African flag

After reading this post, I hope you feel more positive and excited about the current and future position of South African chess. Regardless of whether you are a player, parent, coach, organiser, or administrator, I hope you are able to continue contributing to and growing chess in your area, and that the politics at the top will not put a damper on your enthusiasm for chess – hopefully in time the politics will be fixed, and as a country we will be able to see the rewards from positive things such as the ones I’ve mentioned in this post!

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Thank you to the following people who supplied/verified information or provided photographs for this post: Eazy Tshabadira, Adv CM Lyndon Bouah, Banele Mhango, Thando Hlakula, and Eugene Steenkamp.

Note that since I am based in the Western Cape, there is a bias towards Western Province news. If you have any positive news from your own region (or anything else from WP that I've missed), comment below or contact me, and I will try include it in a follow-up post.