KZN's move to get more Chess players

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Durban - In December 2009, President Jacob Zuma went to Nkandla where the inaugural KwaZulu-Natal Chess Tournament was held to show his support and asked the province to promote the sport.

Nearly two years later, efforts are still being made to get people, especially children, interested in chess. Kemantha Govender takes a look at how people can benefit from a sport that is close to the president's heart.

Chess is by far one of the oldest and most played games in the world. The game is believed to have originated in the sixth century in India and moved to Europe by the ninth century.

It also cuts across intellectual, age and language barriers and can therefore be enjoyed by all. It may come across as one that is reserved for intellectuals but that is not the case because the game affords one the opportunity to develop strategic thinking, concentration, analytical and problem solving skills.

Zuma learned to play chess under unfavourable conditions, when he served a 10 year sentence on Robben Island.

Political prisoners back then sustained and strengthened themselves during incarceration through sports like soccer, rugby, table tennis, mrabaraba, bridge and chess. 

At the time, chess boards were made from thin cardboard and chess pieces from corks, according to the president.

KwaZulu Chess was established in 2009, coinciding with Zuma's call, with the aim of developing and promoting the game of chess particularly in the rural areas of Kwa-Zulu Natal. The organisation has been working with the provincial Arts, Culture, Sport and Recreation department to fulfill this mission.

Sandile Xulu, KwaZulu Chess President, says that playing chess is similar to going to gym. 
The body gets into shape when doing physical exercise while chess trains the mind.

Xulu also says chess previously was a game for the elite. KwaZulu Chess seeks to change this and make chess part of normal school activities in all schools around the province.

"Playing Chess is like taking your brain to gym, especially for the young and growing mind. It is important to exercise their minds in a competitive, fun and constructive way while learning to hone those skills and values that will help them become productive members of our society. 

"Chess is not only just a game but an intervention to a lot of problems such as mathematician and scientists shortages in our country. As a sport, it cut across all boundaries and it is an easily affordable project," explains Xulu.

KwaZulu Chess has its pilot project in Nkandla and thus far has been successful in encouraging participation.

"Our next target is to go to other rural areas, hopefully with the help of the KZN Department of Sports we can eventually reach all of KZN."

In February, MEC for Arts, Culture, Sport and Recreation donated 300 chess sets to KwaZulu Chess. These sets will be distributed on March 17 in Nkandla.

"We have strategically identified 30 primary schools from different wards in the area of Nkandla who will receive 10 chess sets each. On this day KZ Chess will also do an 'educators training workshop' which will be a one day course for all 30 educator chess facilitators," said Xulu.

Vukani Mbhele spokesperson for the department says they got on aboard after the president's involvement in 2009.
"You will remember that the President started this campaign. It helps learner's way of thinking. It teaches them to be patient. It also helps take their minds off unproductive and anti-social behaviour," he says.

"They (the learners) have been very excited. It also makes going to school for learners more fun as they need to take some time off their studies, but still use it productively".

Children these days, though, spend copious amount of time either watching television or playing technology-driven games.

"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. 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," said Zuma during his address at the Moves for Life Chess Programme in October 2010.

The president explained that advanced chess players demonstrate increased expertise in the making of tough and abstract decisions, helping 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."

Another reason that prompted Zuma to make the call for the teaching and promotion of chess in schools is because it inspires patience. 

"You have to give the opponent time and space to think and make his or her own move. It teaches that a decision must be an outcome of a serious thought process. Chess teaches discipline - when you touch, you must move, you have to be disciplined," explained Zuma.

The president added that children can learn about fairness. "You alert the opponent before you strike, and keep them informed of your moves and intentions... 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," said Zuma. -BuaNews