Fort Hare rock all the moves to become kings of student chess

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Members of Fort Hare’s chess team, from left, Xhanti Mafongosi (coach), Masali Elethu, Afika Mxenge, Zandi Ncokotwane, Sibabalwe Zenani, Emihle Sahluko, Talent Magxala and Lindokuhle Gaga are on Cloud 9 after lifting the Eastern Cape Student League trophy.

Fort Hare University’s chess teams swept the boards at the Eastern Cape Student League Championships that culminated at Walter Sisulu in Butterworth this past weekend.

The university’s first (Division A) and fourth teams (Division B) were leading the charge coming into the final round of matches and showed remarkable resilience to secure both titles.

The league champs were launched in 2022 and for the Alice team to come up trumps on their second attempt thrilled coach Xhanti Mafongosi no end.

Contested over three tournaments from March, the students engaged in battles of the strategic kind at WSU’s Mthatha and Fort Hare’s East London campuses before the final reckoning in Butterworth.

“They all played well. We not only won the team prizes but had a number of individuals who received trophies,” Mafongosi said.

There were accolades for Romeo Tokoyi, Zandi Ncokotwane, Sibabalwe Zenani and Nkadimeng Nthlangoe, while Afik Mxenge was unlucky to miss out on winning his tournament board.

While all things are well that end well, Mafongosi was given the fright of his life when the team lost to WSU Mthatha, whom they had steamrolled 5-0 at the Fort Hare event.

He did however accept that there had been a lot of pressure on them to secure the titles and that it may have led to a loss of focus.

“I didn’t say much,” he said.

“My players know when I don’t speak it means they have to pull up their socks. I also didn’t want to talk because that might have added even more pressure.”

Their march to league honours is a confidence-booster ahead of a string of important upcoming competitions. First up is the annual intervarsity starting at Rhodes University today.

The coach has resolved to send Fort Hare’s second and third teams, who did not compete over the weekend, to Makhanda.

“We do look at intervarsity as important but not as important as the leagues,” he explained.

The next big one is the heritage tournament hosted by UFH’s East London campus from September 23 to 24.

“We have had players from around the country expressing interest, particularly since the winner takes home R12 000,” Mafongosi said.

If the stars align, they will travel to Kimberley the following weekend for the Moja Chess Extravaganza Prestige event, which carries a prize purse in excess of R100 000.

“It’s a huge tournament. Grandmasters from all over the world will be there. We are crossing our fingers we can go too.”

In October, eight Fort Hare players – including the coach – will represent the EC in an interprovincial tournament.