Once upon a time in South Africa

by ChessBase
10/6/2013 – Last month a delegation of German chess teachers and sponsors travelled to South Africa, as part of the FIDE Chess in Schools program and the Kasparov Chess Foundation, which is engaged in introducing chess to schools all over the world. It is truly inspiring to see how young children take to the game, and how their teachers are motivated to work with them. Part one of a big pictorial report by IM Elisabeth Pähtz.

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Once upon a time in South Africa

By IM Elisabeth Pähtz

South Africa is one of the unique African countries, besides Namibia, where you can find quite a mixture of black and white inhabitants. It’s a country where British and Dutch influence – due to past conquest and colonizing – is clearly visible. There are eleven official languages spoken in South Africa. Zulu is the main languages among the black population, English and Afrikaans (similar to Dutch) among the white society.

In general I would say that South Africa is a country with various faces. Depending on which part of the country you are, you easily recognize the different lifestyles, mentalities, cultures and traditions. Such diversity, however, seems to bind a country together, and no doubt I can say that I have never experienced such hospitality and kind attention from people of various cultures ever before in my life.

But why are we here? Thanks to the FIDE “CiS” (Chess in Schools) program and the Kasparov Chess Foundation the advantages of introducing chess in schools had become clear to many countries in the world – and South Africa was one of them. Since February 2012 the “German Chess Foundation” has concentrated on a project called “Chess for Africa” and had already been in Africa four time so far – three times to South Africa/Johannesburg and once to Congo/Kinchasa.

Group picture of the German delegation at the Nelson Mandela Square, formerly known as Sandton Square,
renamed in 2004 after a six metre statue of Nelson Mandela was installed to honour the South African hero.

On 21st of September we – a group of nine people – once again headed to the region, specifically to the richest city of the whole of Africa: Johannesburg. Our group consisted of a camera team, led by FM Anita Stangl and two helpers, Chris and Axel; the CEO of the Chess Foundation Matthias Draeger; two primary school chess teachers: Karol Lalla and Stefan Becker; one chess educationalist: Detlef Koch; and two professional chess players: Falko Bindrich and me. “Jo’burg” is well known for its strong economy and diamond mining. Our targets were two schools, the Mambo School in the south west region Soweto (a totally black community) – and the private School St. Peters (mixed community) in the northern suburbs of Jo’burg.

Anita with the headmaster of St. Peters Pat Mbele (right) and
Blessing Zambuko, the best chess teacher in the school

Open air chess on the first day in front of St. Peters

A colorful set borrowed from "Big Chess", a company which produces these huge sets

What are we doing here? The general goal of this project is to educate teachers and adults on how to teach chess in schools. Furthermore we are concentrated on educated chess teachers and providing them with training classes, techniques of teaching and strategies. Later on those trainers will be able to take over our job and educate teachers of elementary classes how to teach kids chess. In that way we hope to spread the virus of chess in the entire school community of the country.

Falko and me giving lessons in St. Peters

Our film team records Blessing explainind the strength of the knight in the center

That's me giving chess lessons in the Mambo School in Soweto

My chess students followed everything very attentively

We chose South Africa among the African countries because it is not only unique for its mixed balanced society and contrasts, but also because especially the poor regions lack general support and show huge drawbacks in their educational system.

A young girl in Soweto prepares to work in a chess project

She and others cut out chess figurines and glue them to bottle caps

The full bottle cap chess set is ready for action

Perfectly good for a nice game of chess

– Part two to follow soon –

Reports about chess: tournaments, championships, portraits, interviews, World Championships, product launches and more.


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