At the recent World University Chess Championships, held in Katowice, Poland, Allan Gray Candidate Fellow Seadimo Tlale realised again that chess is more than just a sport. Engaging chess grandmasters and sampling Polish culture left her feeling socially and mentally enriched, able to pass on what she had learnt.
The South African team of four arrived in Poland’s capital, Warsaw, on the day the country commemorated its post-World War II reconstruction. This was especially significant to Seadimo, who has always been inclined to matters of social justice and politics. The team was able to spend a national holiday learning first-hand about the country’s struggles and how they overcame.
This first day of absorbing Polish history set the tone for the rest of Seadimo’s trip. In addition to discovering Katowice, the industrial capital of Poland where the tournament was being held, Seadimo and her team were also able to visit Krakow, known as the cultural capital of the country, as well as the town of Wieliczka where the Wieliczka Salt Mines have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While visiting a castle for the first time, indulging in the local cuisine and making friends with contestants from all over the world all ranked high on Seadimo’s list of favourite experiences, her interaction with the locals and their way of living was the absolute highlight of her trip.
She found a number of things fascinating, citing among them the fact that “nobody crossed the street when the pedestrian traffic light was red, even if there were absolutely no cars” and “the majority of Polish people I met couldn’t speak English.” The latter became exceedingly clear when she tried finding her way about town and ended up committing an offence. “It hit me the hardest when I decided to go to town alone, got lost and I couldn’t even ask for directions back. I was also fined 100 Polish zloty (R400) on the same day for something I didn’t really understand,” Seadimo recounts. It’s possible that she still doesn’t know what she did wrong because, she recalls, “the security guard couldn’t even explain!”
As a black girl, Seadimo was also a source of fascination to many of her new friends who had never met a black person before. The local dogs hadn’t either. “I have never had a dog run away from me, ever, and this happened twice!” Seadimo also gained a new-found understanding for what it means to live in a third-world country by hearing how her friends from first-world countries thought about poverty. “The one day, in a casual conversation one of my new friends described poor areas as ‘those houses that don’t have WiFi.’”
In terms of playing chess, Seadimo found this tournament to be the most difficult she had ever played. Despite ranking first in her age group, nationally; winning a silver medal at the 2011 Commonwealth Games for u18 girls; and maintaining a Top 10 position since, she was finding the competition a bit tough. Or as she puts it: “This tournament humbled me.” There were a total of 19 grandmasters, 15 international masters, 13 fide masters and 2 candidate masters. The team did, however, achieve performance ratings that were above their national ratings. Seadimo takes this as a good sign to mean that more opportunities to compete internationally would significantly improve their play. “My play improved significantly and I came back with a renewed vigour to become an even better chess player.”
For Seadimo chess has always been about more than just playing a sport. It is her tool for facilitating social justice and promoting gender equality. She founded a chess club in the Tumahole township, north of Bloemfontein, a few years ago. Through their involvement in the Tumahole Chess Club’s activities children have been staying off the streets and achieving higher academic results. As the only woman in a national team of four, Seadimo also realises the great need to get more young girls involved in chess. “I use the club to challenge remnants of chauvinism and sexism in the community by allowing girls and boys to participate as equals and learn to work together,” she explains. The chess club also allows Seadimo to plough back all the experience and skills she gains from competing internationally. “I try to add value to the club and, therefore, to the community at large.”