JZ makes (check) mates

2009-12-26 12:39

Nonkululeko Precious Sibiya had the time of her life as she challenged President Jacob Zuma to a game of chess at Nkandla Community Hall.

That she lost the game to the wily president after fewer than 10 moves is neither here nor there.

“This is the best day of my life. I never thought I would ever sit this close to the president and play a game of chess with him,” gushed the 14-year-old.

Zuma flew straight from former Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang’s funeral in Pretoria on Wednesday to the Nkandla Community Hall, where a chess tournament between some adults and 60 students from the surrounding schools took place.

“Chess is a very important game as it exercises the mind,” Msholozi told a packed hall.

“It is one of the games I would like to encourage all schools to take up seriously as it sharpens the mind, gives one the ability to strategise and formulate tactics.”

As usual when he addresses crowds, Zuma had the audience eating out of his hand as he regaled them with anecdotes from the time when he grew up in the area.

He likened chess to King Shaka Zulu’s war strategies.

Zuma gave the crowd the lowdown of how the game is played while revealing how he used to hate losing a chess game while in exile.

“I used to liken it to our struggle. I would give the opposition pieces some Afrikaans names such as ‘that is Vorster and I am going for him’. When I lost, I would take it badly and think it was an omen that we were going to lose the struggle,” he said.

In an interview with City Press Zuma disclosed that besides chess, football (which he played and later refereed on Robben Island) and stick-fighting, his other passions were table tennis and bridge.

“Sport is very important as it makes you a better and knowledge-able human being. I like games like chess and bridge because they stretch your brain to the limit. They make you think strategically.

“Physical sports such as soccer, rugby and boxing ensure that you stay fit and healthy. It is quite important for the youth to participate in sports as it keeps them focused and disciplined, unlike when they are idle, which is when they are open to all sorts of temptation.”

Asked about media reports that there was still some infighting within the South African Football Association (Safa), Zuma said he was ­surprised to hear at that.

“I called the Safa leadership to a meeting to sort this out. I told them that it was not the right time for them to have squabbles as we are faced with a mammoth challenge in hosting the 2010 World Cup.

“I appealed to them to shelve all their differences and focus on the task at hand for now. I said if there were individuals who were unhappy, they should raise those issues ­after the World Cup.

“We are not hosting this event only for South Africa but the entire continent. We cannot afford to disappoint Africa.”

The chess tournament was the brainchild of KwaZulu-Natal Chess Association president Sandile Xulu.

When he broached the subject of introducing the game to a few students in schools around Nkandla, Zuma urged him to get all students in participating schools to take part.

On Wednesday Zuma challenged the business people who attended to support the sport financially.

“Next year we must host a fund-raising dinner party for chess right in this hall,” he said.

He also challenged local business people to build a hotel in Nkandla.

“When people come to visit me and want to sleep over here, I get embarrassed when I tell them that the nearest hotels they can sleep in are in Durban, which is a good three-hour drive from here.

“I always feel very relaxed when I am here,” said Zuma, adding that he was already at home for Christmas and was taking a break from his hectic schedule as the country’s number one citizen.

“To all sports people, I would like to say they must keep on entertaining the people with their God-given ­talent.”

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