Eswatini’s Sikhanyiso Sihlongonyane, the “giant slayer”

Eswatini is one great country with unique activities. If you are a girl and pretty, your destiny is almost as good as set. The last remaining monarch in Africa may just pick you as his wife at the annual reed dance and add you to a growing list of queens.

180803-Swaziland- Maidens about to deliver their reed to their Majesties during the Annual Reed dance ceremony at Ludzidzini Royal Residence, in Lobamba, Eswatini. The Umhlanga Reed Dance occurs towards the end of the month of August, when the seasons start changing and the reed is matured and ready for harvest. This event presents the maidens with an opportunity to pay honour to the Queen Mother. Only childless, unwed girls are permitted to take part in the event. Picture: Siphephile Sibanyoni/ African news Agency (ANA).

It’s a little different when you are a boy. There are no short cuts, you must learn a trade. “Sikhanyiso! Sikhanyiso! Have you done your homework?”, I can imagine his mother calling Candidate Master Sikhanyiso Sihlongonyane to set the right standards for her son. It is obvious she couldn’t imagine a board game like chess could be part her son’s destiny package.

CM Sikhanyiso Sihlongonyane , whose full name is Sikhanyiso Persivaal Sihlongonyane was born on 2nd October 1998 in The Kingdom of Eswatini. In a country like the Kingdom of Eswatini where chess is still in its rudimentary stage with their highest rated player barely at 1700 Elos, being a Candidate Master at 20 is considered something.


Having started the first 8 years of his life from a rural district of southern Eswatini, CM Persivaal did not come across a chess board until he was 13 year old, some 5 years after he had started living in the city of Mbabane with his parents. Even then, it was not a physical chessboard per se; it was a chess program on his mother’s computer. According to Persivaal, he kept asking himself: “What is this game that has horses on my mother’s computer?”

So day in day out, he kept trying the movements of the pieces until he fully learnt their movements. Indeed this marked the end of his romance with his childhood passion, football to start a new relationship with chess.
However, Persivaal did not get involved in tournament chess until 2016, when he was 16 years old, and it was none other than the Eswatini Chess Open where he came out with not very pleasant results. A year later in 2017 he got his first rating at the Phela Live Challenge in Eswatini. He recollects the event with fond memories because in one of the games in this event he forced a draw against the Eswatini number 1 at that time.
”I was happy to have drawn the Eswatini number 1”, he said.

Soccer is one of the big sporting codes in Eswatini

Sacrifices matter in chess, a year later, Persivaal was brave enough to travel to Lesotho to participate in his first ever international tournament. He later participated in the Mozambique Open. These sacrifices paid dividends when he qualified to be part of the Eswatini Team at the 2018 Olympiad in Georgia. It was gonna be a new lease of life for the lad.
However, Persivaal was quick to say there is no International tournament trophy on his shelf so far but good performances like the 6\11 score he achieved at the 2018 Batumi Olympiad and being the Swazi best performer at the Eswatini International chess open in November 2018 gives him hope that great things are coming.

It is on home soil in Eswatini where he has battered a lot of players on the chess board. He has won the following trophies:
a)Nhlangano Chess Open June 2018(Gold)
b)Steki Chess Open September 2018(Gold)
c)Nhlangano Chess Club Open December 2018(Gold)
d)Nhlangano Chess Club Blitz Open December 2018(Gold)
e) Mbabane Chess Open May 2019 (Gold)
f) Nhlangano Chess Open June 2019 (Gold)Academically, Persivaal has the Swaziland General Certificate of Secondary Education.

Persivaal cogitating at the chess board.

He says he found it easy to combine chess and education as at the school he attended , The Salesian High School there is always a walk in chess board to play chess on during break time.
“I made good use of the chess board “, he said.
“I used to play chess at school and did my school work at home”, he added.
Persivaal , who now works as a chess coach at Enjabulweni Primary school and Manzini Chess club says he is a Christian and goes to Light House Chapel International Church in Manzini.

Despite the high times, Persivaal singles out the beginning of the year 2018 as one of his lowest moments in life.
“The beginning of 2018 was the lowest moment of my life. I had just completed high school the previous year and my results weren’t good. Immediately after I received my results my mother who is the breadwinner lost her job as a manager and didn’t work for almost the whole year. So I couldn’t fix my results as there was no money. We struggled to make earns meet but thanks to God we never went to bed on an empty stomach. God sent us a “Guardian Angel”, my mother’s little sister (my Aunty). She helped us all the way.”

But chess wise, he sites his tumble down the rating ladder in the last quarter of 2017 as his worst nightmare.


Persivaal who is a big fan of the legendary Mikhail Tal, cites his win against Alhammada, rated 2118 at the 2018 Batumi Olympiad as his most memorable one. It was a victory that had the local newspaper Swazi Observer dubbing him the giant slayer.

At the Batumi Chess Olympiad 2018

“I conducted a smooth pawn ending where, after transposing into the endgame, he resigned 2 moves later”, he said, sounding like a playful pupil describing a movie scene.
“I was rated 1408 when I beat him; he was the first player rated over 2000 that I have beaten in my entire career, the others were losses and draws”, he said feeling satisfied that he achieved something great.

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“I conducted a smooth pawn ending where, after transposing into the endgame, he resigned 2 moves later”, he said, sounding like a playful pupil describing a movie scene.
“I was rated 1408 when I beat him; he was the first player rated over 2000 that I have beaten in my entire career, the others were losses and draws”, he said feeling satisfied that he achieved something great.

He also said he will live to remember his win against Theko Khanyapa of Lesotho at the same Olympiad .
As if recalling a scene from a favorite movie he said:
“The killer blow may have seemed like a dubious combination to some and a beautiful masterpiece to others, it surely made me feel invincible as I went on to brutally beat my next opponent in the same Batumi Olympiad. I gunned down the Lesotho star with a stunning aggressive attack, reminiscent of the legendary Mikhail Tal. Of course the Mosotho could have defended and survived but he was shocked and buckled under the attack.”

It was these stunning results that earned him the Candidate Master title at The Batumi Olympiad. We hope even greater things are coming for the lad and will one day put Eswatini on the map.

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