Moves for Life program in South Africa

by ChessBase
10/28/2010 – October 26 will be remembered as a turning point in the development and popularization of chess in South African. At a gala dinner the country's President, Jacob Zuma, together with chess officials and industrial sponsors, launched the new program that hopes to emulate the example of other countries to bring chess to schools and young people. There Zuma delivered a memorable speech.

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The official launch of the Moves for Life programme

By IM Watu Kobese, Trustee

The Moves for Life chess programme was launched in a gala dinner, where heavy hitters in politics, business and chess circles were in attendance. The honorable State President, Mr. Jacob  Zuma, was the main speaker. The Minister of Education, Mrs. Angie Motshekga, deputy Minister of Sports and Recreation Mr. Gert Oosthuizen,  were ministers that graced the occasion. The business community was represented by CEOs from the mining, engineering, manufacturing, IT and tool making industries, to name but a few. These captains of industry were there to announce their continued financial support of the programme, as well as to pledge monies for the near future. FIDE was represented by the Vice President and Chairman of Chess in Schools, Mr. Ali Nihat Yazici and African Union Vice President Mr. Lewis Ncube. The South African Chess Federation, Chessa, was represented by its President Emilia Ellapen and some of the members in the executive.


The President of South Africa, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma

President Zuma announced his support and recognition of chess as a problem-solving training activity. He highlighted the cognitive development and advancement in ability as some of the gains that young learners will derive from chess. “It is an important game in many aspects, the main benefit being that it contributes to the development of strategic thinking as well as concentration, analytical skills and problem solving.”   A drive to have chess in all schools in South Africa will be further strengthened by the President’s willing and helping hand. “We will play our part as government. Both the Departments of Basic Education as well as Sports and Recreation are involved and already working to promote the game.” He announced his patronage to the Moves for Life programme, which he commended for being uniquely South African.

The Minister of Education Angie Motshekga stressed her undying belief in the educational benefits of structured chess. As a chess-mom, the metamorphosis that a youngster undergoes is to her evident. She announced support from her department and mentioned that teacher chess training will be one of the outcomes from her department next year.

South African Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga

Mr. Yazici, who is a specialist for chess in schools, pledged the support that FIDE would give to the programme. He explained the approach that has been implemented in the hugely successful Turkish chess programme: “With cooperation, you will learn from some of our challenges, and not repeat some of the mistakes.”    

Moves for Life

The custodian of the Moves for Life programme is the Supreme Chess Trust, a registered public beneficiary organization. This Trust provides the necessary governance for funds that can be sponsored or donated towards the roll-out of the Moves for Life programme. The SCT was started in 2008 by Mrs. Marisa van der   Merwe, IM Watu Kobese and Mr. Mickey Scheepers, as a community outreach project from the sports academy of Waterkloof High School. It has grown from strength to strength, and more trustees who are leaders in their fields have since joined. The main idea of the Moves for Life programme is to teach and train chess, not necessarily as a sport, but a logic and lateral thinking training intervention for maths   and science education. The spin-offs for all other areas including chess as a sport will obviously be nurtured.  Two legs to the MFL programme are mini-chess and master moves programme. Mini-chess focuses on grades one, two and three. Teachers are trained and provided with necessary material for fun and easy lessons to give to six to eight-year-olds.

The President with members of Chessa and FIDE.Back row: Lynne van Rensburg (CHESSA Secretary), Lyndon Bouah (CHESSA Vice President), Lewis Ncube (FIDE Vice President); front row: Brian Aitchison (CHESSA Executive Director), Emelia Ellappen (CHESSA President), President Jacob Zuma (President of South Africa), Ali Nihat Yazici (FIDE Vice President, FIDE Chess in Schools Commission President and Turkish Chess Federation President).

A very unique feature of this curriculum is the innovative and exciting manner in which basic maths and science concepts are taught to young children. This is indeed not surprising; unfortunately there has been a limited effort around the world to using the educational strengths to place chess in a powerful position. The master moves programme teaches individuals with a strong chess back round how to teach chess. The emphasis is on the development of a structured appreciation and understanding of fundamental theories. This will help the students to also use this process to tackle such a structure in fields of higher learning.

Areas of involvement

The MFL programme is involved in all but three provinces in South Africa. We have introduced in these areas either the mini-chess or master moves programme. The Uitkyk Mamelodi and Eesterust  programme is the only fully sponsored project till now. This Pretoria based programme has been sponsored for five years starting in 2008. Mr. Ramokhufi, a headmaster from Zamintuthuko primary school in Mamelodi, wrote about the outputs of learners in the programme. Here are some of his findings: “The learners are showing interest and improvement in mathematics,” he also states, “and learners are showing improvement in their level of confidence.” This after only one year in the programme!

The President with trustees of the Supreme Chess Trust

Marcel Roberts

There have been so many chess talents that have not realized their full potential in Africa. The reason for this failure has been lack of a proper support structure. The trustees of the Supreme Chess Trust thus took a decision to offer a scholarship to a chess potential. Marcel Roberts has been sponsored for schooling in one of the top academic schools in South Africa. He also receives chess training and support for international tournaments. He won the South African u/14 title and is currently playing in the u/14 World Juniors in Greece. We plan to afford more of these opportunities to previously disadvantaged youngsters.


An integral ingredient to the advancement of our course is obviously funding. We are working tirelessly to raise the profile for chess, source sponsors and funding from various groups and institutions. It would help if you could sponsor, donate or put us in touch with potential sponsors or donors. This is our website.

Remarks by His Excellency President Jacob Zuma
at the Gala Dinner of Moves for Life Chess Programme

It is with a great deal of pleasure that I address this launch of the Moves for Life Chess Programme. As some of you may know, chess is very close to my heart and I regard this game very highly both as a player and a spectator. This evening’s function confirms that this game is now being taken seriously by decision makers in the sports and education fields in our country.

I agreed to be a patron and attend this launch because I believe that the time has come for us to mainstream chess as a sport in our country. Contrary to popular belief, chess is a serious sport, and it is a game that young people should be encouraged to take part in. It is an important game in many respects, the main benefit being that it contributes to the development of strategic thinking as well as concentration, analytical skills and problem solving. These are traits that are very important for school going children.

Chess is by far one of the oldest and most played games in the world. It cuts across intellectual, age and language barriers and can therefore be enjoyed by people from across the world. It has stood the test of time, and even new technology-driven games have not killed the game of chess, which makes veteran players like myself very happy.

I learned to play chess under unfavourable conditions, while on Robben Island serving a ten year prison sentence. Political prisoners used to sustain and strengthen themselves during incarceration through sports like soccer, rugby, table tennis, mrabaraba, bridge, patience and casino card games as well as chess.

We used to make chess boards from thin cardboard and chess pieces from corks. Given the opportunity, I would have loved to learn how to play at an earlier stage of my life. That is because knowing how to play the game can prove to be invaluable for any young person. That is why we want to convince parents and teachers that chess is one of the most powerful educational tools available to strengthen and enhance a child’s mind.

No amount of video games can teach a child the same level of patience, strategic thinking, concentration, analytical skills and the attention to detail that they would gain from this timeless intellectual game.

A successful chess player will not only successfully analyse the situation in front of him or her, but will draw lessons from a host of previous actions. Chess therefore enhances the ability to make thoughtful, considered, strategic decisions under pressure. These are the same skills that are essential for effective examination performance at school, and also for decision making when one is entrusted with serious leadership positions at work or in the community.

Most importantly, the fact that advanced chess players demonstrate increased expertise in the making of tough and abstract decisions, makes them excel in subjects such as mathematics. The reason is that chess helps one to significantly improve memory. This skill can easily be transferred to subjects where memory is necessary such as mathematics. As government, we will promote this game in schools so that we can ensure that children who enter grade one matriculate with Mathematics as a subject.

Honoured guests, it is evident that chess is more than just a game or a hobby. It is a way of life. You will then understand why we are encouraging young people to play chess at an early age.

In summary, the benefits that accumulate from the teaching and promotion of chess in schools include the following:

  1. The game teaches patience. You have to give the opponent time and space to think and make his or her own move.

  2. It teaches that a decision must be an outcome of a serious thought process.

  3. Chess teaches discipline, for example as chess players would know, “touch is a move”. When you touch, you must move, you have to be disciplined.

  4. Chess teaches fairness. You alert the opponent before you strike, and keep them informed of your moves and intentions.

Players know that once the king is under threat you alert your opponent by saying “check”. When you are convinced that he or she can no longer protect the king, you say “checkmate” to indicate that you have closed the game. This decorum will teach the children that an opponent during a sports game is not an enemy but just a contestant that they must cooperate with. They will learn to deal with opposition of any kind in a mature and tolerant way.

These are benefits that should make us all promote this important game to our youth. They should also make us support Chess SA in their endeavours to develop and promote the sport nationally, including in our rural areas. Government and the private sector need to work together to create a culture where chess can be used as both an educational and motivational tool for children. We will play our part as government. Both the Departments of Basic Education as well as Sports and Recreation are involved and already working to promote the game.

I thank all who are working hard to promote chess in schools and our communities. We look forward to working with you to make this game to grow from strength to strength. We congratulate the Supreme Chess Trust in particular for the Moves for Life programme, which is being launched this evening. It has helped to kickstart this national focus on chess.

Working together, we can make learning a lot of fun for children, while investing in their intellectual development for the common good of the nation.

I Thank You.

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