Khayelitsha kids become chess champs as coach’s social grant gambit pays off

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Sidwell Mayekiso started 2 Knights Chess Academy to teach kids in Khayelitsha chess. (PHOTO: Supplied)
Sidwell Mayekiso started 2 Knights Chess Academy to teach kids in Khayelitsha chess. (PHOTO: Supplied)

Sidwell Mayekiso is using his passion for chess to help young people in Khayelitsha, near Cape Town.

Sidwell (54), is from Qonce in the Eastern Cape. As a child, he was diagnosed with polio and when he was 12, he started seeing a physiotherapist who would transform his life. 

“Mrs Frost taught me how to play chess. Whenever I was too lazy to do exercises to help me walk, I would ask her to teach me chess,” he tells YOU.

Through books, videos and movies he would spend his time learning as much as he could about the ancient board game. 

He and his wife, Zingiswa (45), moved to Cape Town in 2016 and he decided he wanted to share his love of chess with children in his new community, in Khayelitsha.

chess, chess tournament
Impendulo Primary came out tops at the Western Cape Top Schools Chess tournament in 2019. (PHOTO: Supplied)

He approached Impendulo Primary School in 2017 to offer to coach chess and the school was more than happy to open its doors to him, but as it is a no-fee school, it would not be able to pay him for his time – and as it was in a low-income area, parents were not able to pay him either.

At the time, he no longer had a job and survived on his R1 500 social grant. But this did not deter him from sharing his passion.

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He wrote to the non-profit organisation Moves For Life, telling them about his 2 Knights Chess Academy. The NPO provided him with 10 chess boards, but he still needed money to travel to tournaments, which was difficult without sponsorships. So he used part of his social grant to pay for it. 

“I thought, 'Let me sacrifice my own money'. I assure you it was not an easy thing to do, as I also needed to pay my rent.”

His sacrifice was repaid with his students’ successes. 

chess, chess club
The academy took third place in the Western Province League in 2019. (PHOTO: Flashlight Pictures)

“In 2017 we were rated number one in our metro. In 2019 we were number one at the Western Province Chess Schools League.” 

One of his success stories is Bongolethu Ncethelo (15), one of the first kids to join the academy. He represented the Western Province in the under-18 category at the South African Junior Chess Championships in 2019 in Johannesburg.

“My coach is the best developer. He has developed many players, and I’m grateful,” Bongolethu says. 

“Chess has taught me to think creatively and how to think ahead.”

chess, chess player
Bongolethu Ncethelo is the academy's top performing player. (PHOTO: Flashlight Pictures)

In 2018, the NPO Ikamva Labantu began providing financial assistance to Sidwell's academy.

Two of Sidwell's players were set to represent South Africa at the 2019 World Schools Individual Chess Championships in Panama City, Panama, but due to the outbreak of Covid-19 they were unable to go. 

All these successes have made Sidwell proud, but his greatest reward is seeing the look on his students’ faces each time they win. 

“Whenever the kids win their games, I am happy. I do not need anything else,” he says proudly. 

He coaches about 60 kids, who are between five and 19 years old, from Mondays to Thursdays at 3pm, including kids from Chris Hani Secondary School and Noxolo Xauka Primary School.

READ MORE | How I turned my disability into my strength

On Saturdays, they play chess online at Sidwell’s home.

His wife assists in coaching the children.

Sidwell dreams of opening his own chess school which will inspire many more children to take up the sport. He hopes that each of his students will someday look back and remember how he inspired them. 

“I can’t give up on these kids because they come from struggling communities. I always ask myself, 'If I’m not willing to sacrifice, who will?'. I believe life is all about sacrifices, and God will see me through.”

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