Changing lives through chess

Youngsters getting to grips with the game of chess.

Gugulethu Chess College founder Babalwa Rubusana goes from class to class at Luzuko Primary School, collecting pupils on the under-11 chess team.

Founded in 2016 and aimed at young children, the college is a no-fee mobile chess school for disadvantaged pupils.

In one classroom, pupils were seen rushing to the desks already set up with chess boards and chess pieces.

Rubusana, 36, says a teacher at her primary school first taught her to play, and she fell in love with the game. She started the club to share her passion with pupils in the area where chess is not a common extracurricular activity.

She took a leap of faith and resigned from her nine-to-five job.

“I remember how I used to teach my younger brother, who was 3 at the time, how to play chess. When he started Grade R at Luzuko Primary, I continued teaching him, and his classmates started showing interest and wanted to learn too. This is where I got the idea to start the club with pupils. It has since grown into a college,” says Rubusana.

Rubusana uses her own money to help pupils attend chess tournaments.

She began holding lessons at the Gugulethu Sports Complex every Saturday with over 100 children, but the complex was sometimes rented out, so she moved in 2017.

The chess club then met at the St Francis Adult Education Centre until a few months ago, but she currently teaches in vacant classrooms at different schools.

“There are many struggles and challenges,” she says. “Township schools know nothing about chess. The only prevalent sports are soccer and netball, and then there is music. None of the schools has chess boards.

“It’s so disheartening not having proper support from local schools. We have won so many district and provincial tournaments. Even going to these tournaments, I must use my own money to fund the trip. The schools do not contribute anything.”

She says many parents are unemployed and cannot afford to contribute when the pupils need to travel to tournaments.

One of her under-11 star chess players from Luzuko Primary is 10-year-old Phila Mngqibisa. In May, Phila represented Luzuko in a provincial chess tournament held in George.

“I love chess because it makes you think, and it takes you places. I had a good time in George and I slept in a hotel,” Phila says.

Participating in the Chess Western Province District Top Schools Play-offs last Saturday, the under-11 team qualified to represent their school provincially. They were up against many other teams that have greater resources.

Gugulethu Chess College founder Babalwa Rubusana with some of her young chess champs.