A friend sent me a text last night saying he would like for me to teach him how to play chess, and says he thinks it’s time. I asked out of curiosity, “time for what, Bongani?”. I was never ready for his response. I was expecting that he would say he finally has the time and can dedicate enough to learning and practice. Or that he feels his brain cells are deteriorating at a quick rate and he would like to use chess to strengthen his brain and produce new brain-cells. Such reasons like “I would finally like to teach my mind to think strategically through this problem-solving game of chess”, reasons I expected from intellectual people, such as himself you know?! But his reason was that he thinks it’s time he uses the following pick up line next time he tries to pick up a girl “hi, I’m Bonga, I’m a chess player”
This was after he saw my WhatsApp and Facebook status with a picture of CM Banele Mhango posing with the supermodel-looking radio presenter Kede Mkhabela after an interview on Rise FM. The interview was basically intended to shine a spotlight on the young talented Msogwaba-Pienaar born and bred Chess phenomenon.
After his exceptional performance at the African Youth Chess Championship in Egypt, his first ever international appearance, where he won a bronze medal and the title of Candidate Master as awarded by the World Chess Federation (FIDE), Banele has been the closest thing to a Chess celebrity we have ever seen in these parts. He has been on almost all the local radio stations for interviews and has been featured on almost all the relevant newspapers. The next thing will be a magazine article followed by a television interview.
Truly, the life story of a 14 year old boy, from the rural streets of Mpumalanga, has the ability to impact more lives than a story of one from a privileged background. If anyone had a chance of convincing the young and hopeless that they could be anything they put their minds to, it would be young Master Mhango, who seems to have transcended the barriers of a barren community and sprouted out like a leaf of a rose growing in concrete. In a time and in a place where the young people of his age are picking up such habits as smoking and alcohol drinking, where girls his age are already mothers and his peers fathers if not petty criminals; in a place as such and at such a time, he arrived like a messiah to show them the way out and said “be fearless, for fear has no rewards! Find something you love and run with it”. At fourteen he is already an internationally recognized Chess player, a Candidate Master who has traveled to places far and beyond his eyes could reach, beyond what the mind of a regular 14 year old in Pienaar can conceive or comprehend. This is transcendence and it is a major testament to the power of the mind, a thinking, dreaming mind.
So when my friend said it was time to learn chess, I was happy whatever his reason was to be, because I always believe it is always time to learn chess no matter who you are or where you are from. And when he said it was time, the phrase “I’m a chess player” could be a pick up line I was more happier because it meant that chess as a game and it’s players are now getting a well-deserved social recognition. This social recognition will be beneficial to the community at large. Young kids will want to learn chess for the social status (real or imagined) and through that they will gain more mental activity, more responsible thinking and gain many more needed lessons on the importance of thinking before you act or react.
Chess mirrors life in many interesting ways and to gift a community with the game of chess is to save a community from the destruction of itself. The game is mentally engaging and mentally captivating, the greatest mental stimulus known to man. It gives one a mental life which translates to more considered personal and professional decisions. This is what this generation needs, it is what the previous generation needed and certainly the future generations will need Chess.
So if the story of CM Banele Mhango has the power to move a 30 year old professional to deciding it is time to finally learn how to play Chess, imagine the impact it will have on the many young kids with the world of mistakes ahead of them?
We have been asking our local schools to share the young man’s achievements with the learners and see the impact that the inspiration would bring to the kids who would be challenged to be greater than he is. By the looks of things it seems they have been sharing the story because in recent weeks our chess club at the Msogwaba Library has had a huge influx of chess players new, semi-retired and retired, young and old, experienced and inexperienced.
We have had more players than we do chess sets and others would come spend two hours there and still not get a game. This is what growth looks like and we embrace its challenges. We invite everyone as we say Asidlaleni, lets play!