Cheque mate: chess club socks it to money troubles

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Cheque mate: chess club socks it to money troubles

Rising stars in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, hit on designer sales plan so they can get to tournaments

Journalist

An up-and-coming  township chess club is selling socks to afford transport to matches around Cape Town due to a funding stalemate.
The Sibanye Khayelitsha Chess Club is one of the rising stars of Cape Town’s club chess league, despite owning only a few donated chess sets. Last year was the first time they managed to attend all league matches, and they finished an impressive 34th out of 46 teams.
But a dearth of sports development funding now threatens their survival, prompting them to come up with a retail rescue plan: designer socks.
Profits from sock sales go towards bus transport to weekend matches and tournaments – sometimes as much as R800 per event. “Last year we used our own money and got help from people with cars,” said club founder Brian Qamata. “Some people (with cars) charged us less, or when they saw what we are trying to do they said, it’s okay, you can keep your money.”Soweto-born Qamata started the club several years ago after arriving in Cape Town and linking up with fellow players at his local library. He says the game helped him overcome depression and he thought it might benefit others too, particularly youngsters.
“It always helps me coping and also coping with the environment I live in,” he said.
Initial support in the form of donations of chess sets from Western Province Chess helped establish the club, and Qamata recruited players during social matches at the library over weekends. “That’s where the interest was sparked; people wanted to participate,” he said.
Dire poverty was the biggest obstacle to retaining members. “Some of them are hungry,” he added.
Qamata used project management skills learnt on a leadership course to bolster the club; he formed a business partnership with another course graduate, to market designer shops into the township. He and fellow chess club members use profits from sock sales to pay for transport to chess matches.They currently have four teams playing in the Cape Town chess league.
Chelsey Wilson, designer and co-founder of Feat.Sockco, said Qamata was one of several budding entrepreneurs to capitalise on the company’s “Feat Hustle” project: “The concept is that all these ‘hustlers’ out there are trying to make things happen for themselves, but often companies won’t really  sell direct to them but rather to a shop,” Wilson said. “Our concept was that anyone could sell our socks to raise funds for cool things.”The club now has non-profit organisation status and could soon be eligible for formal funding. Most members are either at school or unemployed, and the youngest is just nine.
The club’s top player, high school pupil Phila Ncoyini, hopes to become a “grand master” one day and compete in international tournaments. “The game is quite addictive. It relieves stress and keeps me joyful,” he said, adding that it helps him in other aspects of his life.
“It has taught me how to think and how to make proper decisions.”

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