For the past six years the Beier Group, established and active in KZN for over 85 years, have been nurturing a grass roots chess movement across the province. In October this year, nearly 100 children from nine schools competed in the annual Beier Schools’ Chess Tournament, held at KwaDabeka KK Hall.
Competition was tough and after a day of intense concentration three champions were crowned. Mahlebonke Primary School from KwaSanti was named the champion Primary School, Sithokozile Secondary from kwaDabeka the number one High School, and Ilanga High School took home the award for best overall team.
The tournament is an adjunct to the Beier Group’s chess training programme, and today the initiative is KZN’s largest to develop chess skills in disadvantaged communities.
“We believe chess is a valuable game that encourages players to learn consequential and strategic thinking, discipline and patience,” said Hans Beier, Chairman of the Beier Group. “These are vital skills for the youth of South Africa to learn.”
Mr Joe Mlaba, Co-ordinator from Ilanga High School said “I am happy for the students who won and I’d like to show my gratitude to all the staff of Beier Group for creating this opportunity, and Mr Sithole who introduced chess to our schools. Many students who have been experiencing problems, particularly in Mathematics and reading, sometimes demonstrate remarkable progress after learning chess.”
The Beier Group employ a full time chess coach, Mr Mbongeni Sithole, who coaches 150 active students at nine schools surrounding Pinetown. His sessions take place from Monday to Thursday and are scheduled to last three hours, but sometimes stretch to over five. “I often have to chase students away towards the end,” he jokes, “otherwise they would keep asking me questions all night!”
Apart from the stimulation of young minds, the programme is bearing fruit at high levels of the game too. This December six students who have been a part of Beier’s chess initiative will be competing at the South African Chess Championships in Gauteng. The full cost of their trip is being sponsored by Neucoat, a company within the Beier Group.
In 2016, the Beier Group extended chess training to schools for special needs students, such as Kwathintwa School for the Deaf.
“In chess, there is no disability that can stop you from playing,” said Mr Sithole. “Individuals with physical disabilities can compete with abled bodied players on the same level. It’s an excellent way for children to understand their true potential” said Sithole.
For both Hans Beier, Chairman of the Beier Group and Mbongeni Sithole, chess is a heartfelt activity that stimulates personal development.
Sithole is self-taught and has risen to the level of representing SA for three consecutive years, from 2007 to 2009. Beier was taught the game by his father, Beier Group founder OTH Beier. He played at DHS where he graduated in 1955, and he later played in Germany where he attended university.
“Chess is like Mathmatics,” said Mr Sithole. “It is a game of problem solving using principles, and it is a game of patterns.”
“As a youngster I was always inventing things,” adds Hans Beier. “I believe that was because of the chess I played.”
Looking ahead to 2017, Beier Group want to expand the programme by hiring an additional coach and specifically encouraging females to play, who at this point are significantly under represented. Beier Group are looking to partner with other companies to achieve these goals. Companies interested may contact Hans Beier or Winston Owen, the HR Manager from Beier Group.
Photo: Champion primary school, Mahlebonke Primary School from KwaSanti (l-r) Mbongeni Sithole, Samkelo Ngubo, Lungelo Ndlovu, Sanele Zimbode, Mxolisi Khumalo, Mawethu Ntsholo (Operations Director at Beier Envirotec), Vusimuzi Zondi and Winston Owen (HR Manager at Beier Group).