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The Queen, the Chess Master, and the Knights of Darkness

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Graphic: Timothy Alexander/African News Agency (ANA)

By Kim Heller

When a queen falls in chess, it is often a calamity, signally an impending collapse of fortunes for a chess player careless enough to lose the first lady. Like all chess players, I ruthlessly use the lesser ‘mortals’ on the board; the knights, the bishops, and of course the lowly pawns, to protect my queen at all costs.

Often, as is both practice and protocol, these pieces are surrendered in the game of war that is chess.

“Pawns are the soul of the game,” so said grand chess master, François-André Danican Philidor. But in chess, it is pawns that are often sacrificed, on the altar of maintaining a dominion that barely cares about them or their lot. In life, it is ordinary people.

In a cunning move of chess, it is not uncommon that, in the end, the lowly pawn can determine the fortune of a Queen or a King, and in real life, the lowly masses that of a Dynasty or head of State.

But for now, the pawn and the people move in accordance with the will and want of Queens, and Kings, of Presidents and political leaders. “Chess holds its master in its own bonds, shackling the mind and brain so that the inner freedom of the very strongest must suffer,” according to Albert Einstein.

In the game of chess we are taught that to defend the Queen, and ultimately protect and uphold the King is supreme. Even when the King himself is a sloth who barely moves. The rules of chess dictate that the regal, first citizen in chess must be the last man standing, and that the King must be upheld and protected even if this requires the fall of all others.

The Queen in chess, quite unlike the stoic King, is an expressive, highly charged player, sliding courageously across the board, displaying the marvel of her highly revelled and unrivalled dexterity in the protection of the crown.

But her frenetic activity is never geared towards the protection of any other than the King. The same principle applies to real life Queens, beholden to kingdoms and empires, not citizens or “subjects”. The United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth II was no different. The long serving Queen died last week after seventy years on the British throne. I did not shed a tear for a queen who served to prop up colonial expansion, and exploitation, reducing many African nations to ready pawns in the game of conquest and monopoly. Power. I certainly don’t share the sentiments of President Cyril Ramaphosa who said, “her life and legacy will be fondly remembered by many across the world. The Queen’s commitment and dedication during her 70 years on the throne remains a noble and virtuous example to the entire world”.

In a cruel twist of fate that refuses to curtsey to royalty, Queens fall, so do Grand Masters. And no one knows that more than current world chess master Magnus Carlsen who was defeated by teenager Hans Niemann at the recent Sinquefield Cup tournament in St Louis. Ultimately chess is a game of war. And in a split second, fortunes, royalty, and empires can fall. Just the smallest wrong move or poorly calculated advance or retreat can end up in defeat. In a grand tantrum of epic proportions, Carlsen withdrew unceremoniously from the tournament, alleging that Niemann had cheated.

And back in the colony, the royal battle for the ANC Presidential crown intensifies ahead of the December elective conference. And the first citizen of the land is well protected. Despite the fact that the current President, with his palatial Phala Phala scandal, is as stately as a Naked Emperor, he is likely to win a second term, extending a rather wasteful reign. Ramaphosa is defining the rules of the game, masterfully so. His strategy appears to be one of delaying being charged for the Phala Phala matter, until after the December conference, and then changing the rules again, once victorious. It is a winning strategy.

The so-called RET faction of the ANC appears to be totally confused about its opening gambit. Or are they?

In chess, clear synergy, and synchronicity between the highest, intermediate and lowest ranks is imperative. But in the RET game of thrones it appears as if many are hankering after the Presidential seat. Unless of course this is a ruse.

In the rules and ruse of chess and life, fair play is an illusion. Sometimes those who rule are put in place by dark Knights. Sometimes those who rule are the dark Knights themselves. There are others who hold ambitions for the crown but were never born to be Kings or Queen, or Presidents. Some worthy souls are outplayed or moved aside, and will forever remain simple bishops, or poor pawns, despite their clear superiority of thought or moral standing. In the game of power politics, there are true queens and Kings whose crown will forever be denied.

Politics is no child’s game, as politicians toy with people. It is like chess, a game of deceit and conquest.

Where there should be honour, there is too often dishonour. Where the winners should be ordinary people, they are often little more than pawns in a ruthless ascendency to power. The real kingmakers in the December Presidential race should be the ANC branches themselves. The voice of the branch should be supreme. But for now, and in December, and until Kingdom comes, it may not be so.

Heller is a political analyst and author of ‘No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa.’

This article is original to the The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.