Checkmate: Gugulethu chess coach shares her passion with youth

Gugulethu Chess College under-11 team to go to provincial tournament

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Ten-year-old Grade 4 learner Phila Mnqibisa (right) of the Gugulethu Chess College under-11 team at Luzuko Primary represented his school at a provincial tournament in George in May. Photos: Mary-Anne Gontsana

  • A young woman from Gugulethu started her own chess club to share her passion for the sport with young learners.
  • Babalwa Rubusana started teaching her younger brother how to play in 2016, and now she teaches over 100 learners.
  • Rubusana says her chess players struggle with funds needed to participate in tournaments.
  • Last week, the under-11 chess team qualified for the provincial tournament.

Gugulethu Chess College founder Babalwa Rubusana goes from class to class at Luzuko Primary School, collecting learners on the under-11 chess team. Founded in 2016 and aimed at young children, the college is a no-fee mobile chess school for learners from disadvantaged households.

In one classroom, we saw several grade 4 learners and one grade 5 learner rush to the desks already set up with chess boards and chess pieces.

Rubusana, 36, says a teacher at her primary school taught her to play and she fell in love with the game. She started the club to share her passion with learners in the township, 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 three 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 learners. It has since grown into a college,” says Rubusana.

Gugulethu Chess College founder Babalwa Rubusana uses her own money to help learners attend chess tournaments.

Rubusana 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 met at the St Francis Adult Education Centre until a few months ago. Currently, she gives lessons 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 have 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,” says Rubusana.

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

One of her under-11 star chess players from Luzuko Primary is ten-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 told GroundUp.

Participating in the Chess Western Province District Top Schools Play Offs last Saturday, the under-11 team proudly qualified to represent their school provincially, up against many other teams that have greater resources. The team will compete again in Worcester from 8 to 10 September.

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