Grand plan to train chess masters

Lukhanyo Xhonti makes his move.

There are currently only two chess grandmasters in South Africa and Lukhanyo Xhonti’s dream is to one day see someone from Masiphumelele he has taught, become the third one.

A chess grandmaster is the highest title a chess player can attain, and the title is generally held for life, according to Chess SA.

Lukhanyo grew up in Masiphumelele and attended Ukhanyo Primary School. He matriculated from Masiphumelele High School in 2010.

After matric, he studied sports management at Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) and never imagined that chess would one day change his life.

He would often see children from the community play chess at the library but thought nothing of it until a friend taught him to play in 2016.

“This is when it all changed for me, and I became hooked,” he said.

He googled chess moves and discovered he was a natural.

He decided he wanted to become more involved with chess in his community.

“Chess is a means to address the social ills in the community, such as drug and substance abuse. The most beautiful thing about chess is that it transcends beyond race, gender, age, background, language and religion. No matter what your circumstances are, anyone can enjoy the game,” he said.

He submitted a proposal to Ukhanyo Primary School asking if he could get involved with its chess club, and the rest is history.

Since January, Lukhanyo has been sharing his skills with about 70 children from Grades 4 to 7 on Mondays and Wednesdays at Ukhanyo Primary School, from 2.30pm till 3.30pm as an after-school programme, as well as on Tuesdays and Fridays at the Masiphumelele community hall and at the library on Fridays.

He teaches them from scratch and in addition to his skills he makes use of a book, Chess Makes Kids Smart, endorsed by Rotary International as a tool.

The book is an illustrated guide simplifying the game of chess for beginners.

“The idea is to keep the children occupied with chess all the time to prevent them from getting into trouble,” he said.

Last week, Lukhanyo treated the children to a movie, Queen of Katwe, at the library.

The movie is about a 10-year-old Ugandan girl and her struggles with poverty until she meets a missionary who teaches her how to play chess. She soon becomes a top player and her success in local competitions and tournaments provides her with an opportunity to escape from her life of poverty.

“This is what I envision for the children of Masiphumelele. They were so excited and motivated after the movie,” he said.

Carol Hanks, director of development at Masicorp, an NPO founded in 1999 with a focus on education said they “endorse Lukhanyo wholeheartedly”.

“Teaching children chess has made a huge difference in the community. It provides a safe haven for the children and develops their strategic thinking,” she said.

According to Chess Western Province, the starting up cost for a community chess club, like the one Lukhanyo plans to start up and call the Masiphumelele Chess Club, is R8 500. He will need the following: 20 chess sets (board and pieces) at R2 300, 10 chess clocks at R5 000 and a demonstration board for coaching at R1 200.

For more information or if you are able to make a donation, contact Lukhanyo at or 061 965 7137.