South African President Jacob Zuma attended the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth and South African Open Chess Championships 2013 and handed the medals to the winners.
Zuma also played a game against the youngest player in the championships, five-year-old Keagan Rowe from East London in South Africa, later saying he had sacrificed some pieces “to balance the game”.
Zuma learned to play chess while imprisoned on Robben Island alongside former president Nelson Mandela.
“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 (apartheid) regime,” Zuma said as he explained how prisoners had made chess sets out of soap and driftwood.
Address by His Excellency President Jacob Zuma at the Commonwealth and South African Open Chess Championships 2013, Boardwalk Hotel, Conference Centre and Spa, Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape:
It is a privilege and great honour for me to address you this afternoon in the culmination of the Commonwealth/ SA open 2013 here in Nelson Mandela Bay.
This is a very significant ocassion and I am told one of the largest in the history of Commonwealth Chess tournament.
The Eastern Cape has a proud history of struggle and sport.
Many South African significant events took place here in the Eastern Cape.
History has also shown that the Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth chess clubs were amongst the first to be established in South Africa.
South Africa is proud to be a member of the Commonwealth and we are extremely proud that the World Chess Federation has bestowed the honour on South Africa to host this event for the second time in two years.
We join a community of nations in hosting this prestigious event.
Eight hundred players from 29 countries, which include eight grandmasters, six women grandmasters, thirteen international masters, are participating here.
In 2009 the National Department of Sport and Recreation released a report entitled “a case for sport”.
It stated that: “Sport is a significant part of any nation’s culture, leisure, health, economy and education. Those directly involved benefit from a significantly enhanced quality of life. The physical activities engaged in, how they are integrated into community life, the values expressed through them and how they are celebrated, help define individuals, groups, communities and a nation.
When integrated into the broader framework of development goals, sport constitutes an additional vehicle, mechanism or tool for advancing sustainable development in different sectors of the South African society.”
One can clearly see this at this wonderful event. It is important that we reflect on the last twenty years of chess in South Africa.
Many within the sport movement do not know that chess was one of the first sporting disciplines that we played at international level in 1992.
South Africa returned to international chess on 7 June 1992 when they played against Argentina in the Philippines.
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 but we enjoyed the fullness of the game.
We salute the efforts of Mr Lahdar Mazouz and Mr Nigel Freeman who befriended South Africa in those early days and indeed assisted in the writing of the final constitution for a unified chess body in 1996.
Mr Mazouz, our African brothers and sisters assisted in the struggle for freedom and also in the rebuilding of our sport movement. I therefore thank you most profoundly.
I have seen the list of players and have noticed players from the various continents of the world.
We have Russian born players, players from India and from South America and Europe.
South Africa is a member of BRICS, which incorporates Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
The participation of these players lends credence to this assertion that: “The hidden face of sport is the tens of thousands of enthusiasts who find, through sport, a place for meeting and exchange, but above all, active citizenship and social cohesion.
“In this microcosm people learn to take responsibility, to follow rules, to accept one another, to look for consensus and to take on democracy”.
Viewed from this angle, sport is second to none as a school for democracy.
It is for this reason that I take deep personal interest in chess and have been actively involved in encouraging this sport in disadvantaged rural communities in the country.
We also share a common sentiment with the Department of Basic Education to encourage chess as a serious sport in the schools.
It prompts latent skills on the children, patience, quick wit, decisiveness and confidence arising from competition with counterparts, including those from outside the country.
It therefore promotes cross-cultural communication, which is vital in enhancing social coherence even among the children at this crucial young age.
Chess exercises the children’s minds, it is a healthy diversion from the often toxic television programmes which feature crime, violence and nudity, and reinforces cultures alien to the needs of the children.
We also intend chess to be used as an educational tool, to enhance logic and lateral thinking for mathematics and sciences, which many people find difficult.
While with young children, we are largely concerned about good development of sensory-motor skills, we are also saying that wee must stimulate the intellectual faculties as well, while they are still young, so that they do well in the future.
We will therefore greatly appreciate if the efforts to develop chess in this country and in the continent advance at a higher speed, so that our children start to rank among the best in the world.
As a country we will also count on the LOC’s commitment to supporting chess development programmes in underprivileged communities.
We are hopeful that our collective efforts will advance chess a great deal in this country.
Ladies and gentlemen;
Chess South Africa is the custodian of chess in the country.
They have brought great pride to this country and in the last All African Games they brought back ten medals.
I have also been informed that a young lady from these parts Ms Charlize van Zyl has been beating her opponents handsomely and won a strong event in Botswana and has become a women international master.
The story of Charlize must serve as an inspiration to all the juniors here.
You can succeed if you have the commitment, dedication and passion.
If you do not do well in athletic sports, chess can provide an interesting area as well. Please get involved and encourage others.
We are now readying ourselves for the hosting of the World Youth championships in Durban in September 2014.
We look forward to welcoming all of you in KwaZulu Natal.
Please travel safely and to all of you that competed here, I want you to know that you are all winners.
I thank you!