It’s around 3pm in a fourth year class at Impendulo Primary School in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, and more than a dozen children are focused on one thing: their next move.
The school went without electricity for three hours due to power cuts in South Africa.
Sidwell Mayekiso (54), founder of 2 Knights Chess Club, sits in the corner watching games and coaching players.
“When I start teaching children, I find great stories,” says Mayekiso. “I’m talking about great masters like Bobby Fischer. I find that these children then begin to take an interest in the game. I go through all the basics of chess, I do it step by step. I start with the board, how many boxes and some calculations. Then I move on to coins, which are the best and most powerful. Then we move on to developing the pieces, mid and end game.
Mayekiso is passionate about bringing sport to as many people as possible, especially children in disadvantaged areas. Born in Colesberg in the Northern Cape, he was diagnosed with polio when he was young and started using a wheelchair because of it. He moved to the Eastern Cape at a young age to attend a special school for children with physical disabilities.
Every Tuesday he went to a hospital in east London for check-ups. “I met Mrs. Frost there, and she taught me how to play chess. Every time I went there and felt lazy and didn’t want to exercise, I just asked him where I could find a board. This is where the love of the game began.
Mayekiso moved from the Eastern Cape to Cape Town in search of work in 2016, and that’s when he started working with Impendulo. “I went to see the headmistress and asked her if I could teach these children to play chess. I felt that I was getting old and I wanted to transmit the knowledge of chess to these young people. She was so excited, but she also asked if kids from other schools could join the program.
He is in awe of the talent he cultivates. “The passion for the game started when I was young, but I haven’t played at the level these kids are playing. They are even better than me.
“Some of them, I can’t even play with them. It’s something that excites me, but sometimes you feel embarrassed,” he jokes.
labor of love
When he formed the club, there were a lot of financial constraints and the players couldn’t go to tournaments.
“I spoke to my wife to ask her if I could sacrifice my [disability] grant to help these children participate in these tournaments. She has accepted. It’s not an easy thing because I don’t have any money and the transport was quite expensive.
It won an award from Chess Western Province, the regional body, for Chess Development School of the Year in 2017 as well as an award in 2019 for being champion of the best schools in the Western Cape. The trophies sit proudly in the cabinet of the principal’s office in Impendulo. Two players from the chess club have been chosen to represent South Africa at the World Individual Schools Chess Championships in Panama City, but Covid-19 travel restrictions have prevented them from going. “It was not an easy thing, it was very painful. I hope that among the players I have, maybe one of them will do the same,” says Mayekiso.
“What always inspires me is when teachers come to me and say that this kid, when he started playing chess, everything changed. He’s focused, focused and also good at math. You see that all the children who are the best in mathematics are also those who play chess. It is very good for young brains.
Lycender Ngcume, the acting deputy principal who has been in charge of the school’s sports program since 2016, praises the work done by Mayekiso. “He raised the school [and now] sky is the limit. We know very well that we come from a poor, underprivileged community. But he took the kids to the highest level. He played tournaments and won competitions.
Ngcume adds that students who are part of the chess academy have improved academically. “There are these kids who are brilliant at math. These children are now far ahead. Chess uses the child’s critical thinking. They are excellent at chess and do well in class. Failures activate their thinking.
The area around the school is dangerous, and after-school programs such as chess keep students busy and out of trouble. “Sport allows children to stay together, away from what is happening in the surroundings,” says Ngcume. “Chess is one of the most important sports that also tries to bring learners together.”
“He [Mayekiso] takes sessions with them after school. High school students also come to train. There are about 15 children enrolled in the chess program at school. I hope more children will be interested in coming because chess is a new sport [for them]. They didn’t know before. »
Liyabona Ntengemntu (15) lives at Site B in Khayelitsha. She says she loves the life lessons Mayekiso teaches her through chess. “Chess taught me that we have to behave, be respectful and not brag to make others feel bad.
“It’s a good thing. He’s a great coach because even if we don’t always win, he pushes us and that’s good. The more he pushes us, the better we get. He always encourages us. What I “I like about chess players is that they won’t be negative, they’ll uplift everyone. It’s a good social system we have,” Liyabona says.
“The lesson I learn in chess is that I have to be patient. Not everything is going to come now, when I want it. Not everyone thinks the same thing. When you’re in front of the board, some people take five minutes to make a move. Before that, I was not a very patient person.
Her dream is to one day be among the top 10 players in South Africa. “Maybe I could participate in these international tournaments. I was very proud of my first tournament and I won two games out of seven. I want to do more and I know that I will give my best.
Bongolwethu Ncethelo (16) started playing chess in 2017 for fun. “I love chess because it’s a creative sport, you have to implement tactics. It’s a brain exercise. Chess is not popular, but now people are getting to know it better and better. We also like to introduce other people to it so that they can come and play chess.
Covid-19 and schools not operating at full capacity have affected the number of players at Mayekiso’s club. There were 160 in 2019 and there are only about 60 left. “I pray that some of them come back,” he says.
He adds that kids are excited about tournaments and spend a lot of time talking about their games.
“You can see the conversation after school, these guys are so passionate about the game. It just makes me happy.
The chess tournaments that Mayekiso students can participate in, such as the one organized by Meridian Pinehurst High School in Durbanville a few weeks earlier, make him excited, he says.
“I wish there were more tournaments. It is my dream that one day we can organize a tournament like this in Khayelitsha. There is something good in Khayelitsha. If we keep doing good things even crime will decrease.If you keep kids around sports they won’t go for crime.If they still do something after school extra activities they don’t commit crime he says.
“I can’t wait to see one of these guys play in a South African shirt. I have always dreamed of having a grand master of one of these children. DM168
This article was published by New Frame.
This story first appeared in our weekly newspaper Daily Maverick 168 which is available for R25 from Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. To find your nearest retailer, please click on here.