Chess in South Africa – filling the gaps

by ChessBase
10/8/2013 – In part one of her report on a trip to South Africa IM Elisabeth Pähtz showed the German delegation introducing chess to schools and training teachers. As part of their tour they also visited Soweto, historically the richest, but nowadays one of the poorest suburbs of Johannesburg. There on an open field they set up a giant chessboard to attract children, for whom this was a first encounter with the game. Part two of Elli's big pictorial report.

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South Africa – filling the gaps

By IM Elisabeth Pähtz

The once autonomous municipality of Soweto is historically the richest, but nowadays one of the poorest suburbs of Johannesburg. The history of Soweto begins with a scar: the mass deportation of the black working force (most of them were employed in gold mines) outside the municipal boundaries in early 20th century Johannesburg. Decades later emergency settlements and evacuation camps had accumulated in the area, and the segregation of the black population had been institutionalized by the infamous legislation known as Apartheid. However, it was only in 1963 that the name Soweto (a contracted form of "South Western Townships") was introduced in order to define the agglomerate of the suburbs that had developed in the area. Less than ten years later the people of Soweto paid their tribute of blood to the fight against Apartheid, with the “Soweto Uprising”, which took place in 1976. During the revolt hundreds of children, some of them the age of the smiling chess enthusiasts shown in our pictures, lost their lives and drew the world attention to Soweto and to the horrors of the Apartheid.

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In the ensuing years, Soweto continued to pay a heavy price for the uprising, this time in the form of financial mobbing by the government, which seriously damaged the already precarious economy of the area. The will to fight of the people of Soweto, however, was not shaken as they stood their ground against Apartheid during the 80s, with several initiatives aimed at self-determination and boycotts against the regime. Finally the Apartheid system collapsed in 1994, and a few years later Soweto was incorporated into Johannesburg. The scar had healed, at least in part. Today Soweto is left with many gaps to fill: education, economy, infrastructures are all in need of improvement. But the will of its people to change their lives is still visible from the joy and enthusiasm of the children.

In the following photo report I would like to share with you some impressions from our trip to Soweto, and of our chess activities there. It was a heart-wrenching but also inspiring visit.

A more affluent part of Soweto, with the obligatory car in front of the brick house

We also visit a less affluent neighborhood in Soweto ...

... with houses of corrugated sheets and out-house facitities

These are essentially slums, where the truly under-privileged live ...

... under conditions that are truly heart-wrenching

Jabu, the director of the chess programm at the Soweto school, above with
Matthias, guided our team through this region of fairly abject poverty

Some of the residents did not appreciate us taking pictures...

... and some were cool with it, Jabu enchanted with them

Labourers off to their jobs on a normal working day

Introducing chess

Youth can have fun anywhere – just give them a soccer ball ...

... or maybe a chess set? We decide to set up our camp on a field in Soweto

Our garden chess set immediatly attracts children

FM Anita Stangl with some early arrivals

And with a chess helper from Soweto, and me

One of the kids which came to the chess event in that field

Another two kids – everyone was curious about our chess activities ...

... even this baby, who was unbearably cute

More and more kids turned up for the chess adventure

Chess twins, learning to handle the most important pieces

Most of them encounter the game for the first time

But they definitely think that the chess pieces are cool

Was it all worthwhile, our chess camp in Soweto? The answer is above.

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