Happy Nelson Mandela Day!

7/18/2013 – While the Commonwealth Championship ended in a deserving victory for GM Abhijeet Gupta, its conclusion was overshadowed by some prestigious VIP guests: South African president Jacob Zuma and former world champion Garry Kasparov. Zuma revealed that as a political prisoner he had played chess with soap pieces and driftwood. Today they celebrate Nelson Mandela's 95th birthday.

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Happy Nelson Mandela Day!

By Alina L'Ami

The sumptuous five-star Boardwalk hotel was the official hotel of the event

„How come you are not smiling this morning?” the young lady placed at the entrance of the breakfast lounge asked me. My frowning eyes opened in amazement while I slowed my hurried pace and eventually froze. Caught in the act, I faced a dilemma: should I try to explain myself or should I simply change my attitude?!

The promo of the Commonwealth Ch, in cooperation with the Boardwalk hotel,
is displayed again for the...

... special FIDE guests, present for the chess in school project!

You will recognize above the President of Chess South Africa, Emilia Ellappen, the President of Africa Chess Union, Lakhdar Mazouz, GM Pablo Lafuente from Argentina (who was working hard for the tournament), the treasurer and the heart of our beloved Bermuda parties during Olympiads, Nigel Freeman, and of course the brain behind the entire event: tournament director - Dr Brian van Zyl, who is a successful lawyer when he is not organizing chess events.

The chess star is here! I cannot fully describe the hapiness and enthusiasm
shared by amateurs and professionals alike!

Despite his hectic schedule, travelling through six African countries in five days (!),
Garry is still smiling! 

These thoughts lasted less than it took me to quiver with surprise and were immediately followed by the rise of a shining smile on my face. It was not a grin, a smirk, a simper or a smile of complaisance. The magic wand of her psychedelic remark had indeed changed something within me, without requiring a conscious effort on my part!

This is no airport control! Just the usual security measures to welcome the...

...President of South Africa: Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma!

"On Robben Island, chess provided a solace to us that we needed in those conditions of isolation and deprivation. It propelled our minds beyond the confines of the prison walls and allowed us to reflect and to position our thoughts strategically to fight the regime. [...] Many comrades made chess sets out of soap and driftwood that allowed us to continue to play this noble and great game. We improvised with makeshift chess boards and we enjoyed the fullness of the game."

- Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma in his speech during the closing ceremony.

South African President Jacob Zuma playing a friendly 20-minute game against the
youngest participant, the five-year-old boy Keagan Rowe. The fighting game ended in
a stalemate - a spectacular finish just like the tournament itself!

While marching down the breakfast room, I continued to chew over the new experience: the lady had noticed that my mood was different from other mornings, although she couldn’t have known that I had lost my game the evening before and was in need of a strong dark coffee after a bad night sleep. These people really care about others, no matter if you are a stranger coming from the other end of the world or just the next door neighbour; their spontaneity and openness are genuine and not some sort of poem they had to learn by heart. Even the country’s name reveals honesty by describing the mere geographic reality, as being settled in the…South; as far as I know, it is the only one of its kind in the whole world!

Indian GM Abhijeet Gupta

The Indian WGM Soumya Swaminathan finished on a very
good ninth place in the final standings.

IM Rodwell Makoto from Zimbabwe

Although obviously cute, this little girl was hardly the only
child in the tournament.

There were many

IM Jovanka Houska from England finished on a great eighth
place (shared fourth) in the final standings.

South Africa unfolds itself at its best, with its soul palpitating to the hidden rhythm of nature, the same as the fascinating pace of locals’ traditions. Every year, on July 18th (Mandela's birthday), South Africans celebrate the Nelson Mandela International Day, as a day to honour the legacy of South Africa's former President and his values, through volunteering and community service. The Mandela Day campaign message is: “Nelson Mandela has fought for social justice for 67 years. We’re asking you to start with 67 minutes.” This global call to action celebrates the idea that each individual has the power to transform the world, the ability to make an impact. It took less than 67 min for the Boardwalk staff to be an eye opener for me…which proves indeed that if you care, you can make a difference.

Chess players enjoyig the 'winter' sun (remember it is in the southern hemisphere)
- 29 degrees Celcius in Port Elizabeth!

(from right) Tshepo Sitale, zonal President (Zone 4.3), François Strydom, member
of Chessa Board and member of Fide Constitutional Commission, Lakhdar Mazouz,
President Africa Chess Union, yours truly, and François's brother.

The winner with 9.0/11: Abhijeet Gupta! - courtesy of Leon Hugo. (I was not
allowed to take pictures during the closing ceremony, since the President was
there and security has strict rules).

And this was obvious in the natural progress of the tournament as well, when things constantly progressed from good to better and best! Oh, this enthusiastic, sleepless, passionate team behind the Commonwealth Championship... They didn't run, they didn't hide (from my endless questions – to give you an example), they didn't scream nor lour because of the sometimes derisory demands from children, coaches, parents or... politicians. They just carried on with an impetus that continues to amaze me. And no matter who or what they had to deal with, VIPs, protocols, security or mere participants, they sorted out things in the best possible way and faster than it takes to pull a rabbit out of a hat!

With KwaZulu-Natal chess players! This region is the birthplace of many notable
figures in South Africa's history, such as the current President, Jacob Zuma!

Now that I arrived home safely and the tiredness of the journey has partly melted away, I have the feeling that this tendency will persist over the years, leading the South African chess movement to an unprecedented take-off to the heights. How else could it be when Zuma and Kasparov, two gurus in their field of expertise, attended the event? You must have discovered by now that celebrities don't want to spoil their name or stain their image by attending some average or unimportant event. They actually believed in it, so the obvious conclusion is that the tournament was worth it!

The wonders of nature

The beauty of South Africa

The public library

Afrikaans! One of the eleven official languages of South Africa adopted words from languages such as Malay, Portuguese, the Bantu languages, and the Khoisan languages, but an estimated 90 to 95 percent of Afrikaans vocabulary is ultimately of Dutch origin. Therefore, differences with Dutch often lie in a more regular morphology, grammar and spelling of Afrikaans. Here for example, "Inkomstegebou" in Afrikaans (income building), would be spelled in Dutch as "Inkomsten gebouw" - for a native Dutch speaker it is quite interesting to see how the "N" and "W" letters 'fell' off the wall.

"Take Action; Inspire Change; Make Every Day a Mandela Day!"

Port Elizabeth Fort Frederick: a stone fort built in 1799 by British troops to defend
the mouth of the Baakens River.

And who knows, maybe over the years South Africa will become a common chess players’ destination and meeting point, as is the case in Europe. I wouldn’t be surprised and I would certainly return! Especially since I faced difficulties in exchanging my SA Rand into Euros. Each bank I entered - quite a few of them! - presented a different problem: not enough Euros, no exchange service or written proof of my money’s provenience. In the end I cannot say anything less than: it’s a sign – South Africa wants me here, wants a guarantee I will return. It will be a constant dream for me from now on…

Pictures by Alina L'Ami


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