The Hlalefang Chess Club has taken the game favoured by the world’s tactical players to the children of Alexandra township, seeking to take them “off the streets” and help transform their lives. Sometimes, all that is needed to change the course of a life is opportunity, and Hlalefang is offering just that.
The founder of the club, Jonathan Maliboho, can himself testify to the power of the challenging board game to help develop our youth into responsible decision-makers. He was introduced to chess at the age of 10 and it was not long before he found himself turning his life around, giving up his harmful habits and progressing to provincial level as a chess player. Eventually, he decided to share the transformational power of the game with his peers by forming the Hlalefang Chess Club in 2014. In 2016, he was named the Lead SA Gauteng Regional Hero of the Year.
The Northern Sotho word “hlalefang” means “wise up” and this describes how the club transforms its more than 200 members – primary and secondary school learners from Alex – through imparting both chess theory and practice. The club’s team of 11 volunteers and six office-bearers foster a love of chess in the children who can have fun while developing their problem-solving, thinking and social skills. Chess has been proven to stimulate brain growth, exercise both hemispheres of the brain and even boost IQ.
To Jonathan, the chess club environment is a much different world from the one he knew as troubled teen. “I used to be involved in a lot of mischievous things, but thanks to chess, I saved my life from decay,” he says. He started Hlalefang as an environment where other young people can also escape the trap of substance abuse and even criminal activity. “The club is an initiative that builds children and youth to focus on their academic and social lives, as well as having the recreational commitment to guide our youth to take wise decisions and career paths.”
The Hlalefang Chess Club has since grown to seven divisions and has been registered as an NPO. Its mandate is to support, encourage and equip pupils towards their educational commitments, by offering information, opportunities, activities, resources and relationships with challenges that they ought to come upon working towards their foundation of life, and decision making. This is achieved through bringing quality chess training to both students and members of the Alexandra township community, to foster a love for chess in children and assist in a way that will help the students to reap the educational and psychological benefits of engaging in chess in our constantly developing country. The club also aims to expose them to opportunities that come with interacting with other clubs, communities and regions through chess.
The club’s mission statement is to extend the role of chess in the Alexandra township society. It is also Jonathan’s goal to promote an academically stable network of local area schools as well as with clubs in other regions to ensure the mutual trend. The beneficiaries are the vulnerable and disadvantaged community members – children and youth, children with disabilities, people living with HIV/AIDS, drug abusers, the unemployed and others experiencing difficulties in their lives such as pregnant teens.
As an after-school activity, the club offers young people an alternative to a life of dead-end choices or misfortune. It is a platform for enriching empty lives and inspiring new dreams. In this supportive environment, the members experience a sense of belonging, have access to a caring adult and develop the confidence to unlock their potential – along with some impressive chess moves.