Chess coach wins excellence award

* Lukhanyo Xhonti receives his award from Jacqui Boulle, chief director of the After School Programme.

A Masiphumelele chess tutor has won the 2019 AfterSchoolSport Coaching Excellence Award from the Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport through the After School Programme.

Lukhanyo Xhonti won the award for coaching chess at uKhanyoPrimarySchool’s after-school programme.

The award recognises excellent coaches working in after-school programmes at schools, in NGOs and at centres or organisations across the province.

Speaking after the award ceremony held last month, Mr Xhonti said it was one of the best moments of his life.

‘I’m feeling very happy. I didn’t expect it. It was very humbling, because it’s one of the prestigious awards in the Western Cape, and also the first time having chess at uKhanyo Primary School, and then to get an award is truly amazing. I couldn’t believe it,’ he said.

Mr Xhonti, who will turn 27 next week, has lived in Masiphumelele most of his life. In fact, he attended the same primary school where he now teaches three days a week in the after-school programme.

His journey to this award has been one of determination, just one of the qualities that makes him such an excellent coach, and he has a vision: to produce a chess master from Masiphumelele.

Another chess coach showed him it was possible. Robert Katende taught chess in a slum in Uganda called Katwe, where one of his students, a young girl by the name of Phiona Mutesi, went on to become a chess master. Katende and Mutesi are the real-life stars of a movie called Queen of Katwe, and visited South Africa earlier this year.

Mr Xhonti showed the film to his students and said, “When they watched the movie it was a turning point. They saw that it’s not about where you come from, it’s about where you want to go. It gave them a bigger picture of what their lives could become.”

In March 2018, Mr Xhonti established the Masiphumelele Chess Academy, which meets at the community centre. The children have done well, even in such a short time. Mr Xhonti entered them into the Cape Town City Games. The children won both their sub-area games, plus their area games, and at the Cape Town City Games one came second in the under-14 group, another came third and another fourth in the under-16 group – all the players were younger than their age group.

Learning chess, says Mr Xhonti, is about teaching them life skills. “Chess is not about winning all the time,” he says, “It’s about strategic thinking, creativity, problem-solving and also how to be patient.”

There’s another benefit, he adds.

“The importance of the programme is that some of the kids don’t understand what they’re taught in school hours. These programmes offer another opportunity to improve themselves.”

And he is absolutely always fighting their corner, just like his role-model Robert Katende did for his own students.

‘I hope to see these kids representing South Africa on an international level one day, because I see that they have the capacity to make it,’ he says. “But I also want them to find a balance between academics and chess – they must be able to aim for a career.”

In August this year, Mr Xhonti met Robert Katende, and the children of the Masiphumelele Chess Academy met their role-model, Phiona. Mr Katende and Phiona were in the country to attend the #enriched Symposium held by the provincial governments. After School Programme Office, which also initiated the awards for leaders in the After School Movement. Going forward, Xhonti has plans to extend theprogrammetoMasiphumelele High School, and also to enter the chess team into the Western Cape Schools Chess League – and although he says not everything’s about winning, they will be playing to win, “because I tell the kids we are not there to entertain the other players,” he laughs.

The Masiphumele Chess Academy is in need of donations to buy supplies. If
anyone is able to help, contact Lukhanyo Xhonti on 061 965 7137.