Reflections : Libraries and Chess By Dr. Lyndon Bouah

  1. In September 2019 Bellville South library celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. I missed the celebration but I wanted to write something about Bellville South Library. I also wanted to reflect on the personal importance of libraries to me.
  • My mother was a teacher and from a very early age she enrolled us at the local library in West End in Port Elizabeth. My sisters and I started going to library from about eight already.
  • My real interest in libraries came when I started playing chess. As I was hungry for knowledge I discovered that under the games section chess books were alive and well.
  • I very soon in 1986 and 1987 devoured all the books in West End. The local librarian decided to refer me to the Port Elizabeth Central Library. I had always driven past the library but never entered.
  • With another intrepid chess player, Conrad Blignault, we took the requisite taxi to the library. This was of course an adventure on its own. As my high school, Bethelsdorp High School, was next to the Windvogel Taxi rank we took a taxi to Norwich which was the central bus and taxi depot.
  • The procedure stayed the same for many a week. After disembarking we then went to the local pie shop first to eat. Next to the pie shop was Fogarty’s Books which was a veritable treasure trove of books. We then checked all the latest books.
  • Then we were off to the library. An imposing building it had prime space in the centre of town. A statue of Queen Victoria greeted us upon arrival. The entrance was on the side.

We immediately headed for the chess section. We then discovered that they had about 50 new books that we had not read before. But another discovery intrigued us even more. The library subscribed to the British Chess Magazine. As the authors of the various articles invited readers to write to them we also seized the opportunity and wrote to one author called Stewart Reuben. The correspondence from us was well received and this started a lifetime of friendship. I met Stewart for the first time in 1992 after corresponding for five years!

  • In 1990 after the watershed announcement by Mr. FW. De Klerk the West End library started receiving various political books and particularly the books that recently became unbanned. A student friend and fellow chess player, Claude Van Heerden, worked part time at the library and I often visited the library in the afternoon when the new books arrived so that we were the first to read the formerly banned books
  • After registering at the University of the Western Cape in 1991 my special relationship with the libraries in the Western Cape started. As

a law student I spent many hours researching, studying and photocopying at the UWC library!

  1. For me though the public library system was the best ever. I joined the Bellville South Chess club as well because of my hunger for chess. And here again the chess books at the library was a fantastic discovery. My favourite book was the Dozen best chess players which was written in the mould of the dirty dozen. The best twelve players with their games were highlighted. One of my greatest triumphs in my chess career was in fact accomplished at Bellville South library when I came second in the SA Closed Championship in 1989. I was still at school then and a second place was considered a fantastic achievement.
  1. Minister Anroux Marais, the Provincial Minister of Cultural Affairs and Sport attended the fiftieth celebrations of Bellville South library.

Bellville South library celebrates 50 years

This is what she said in her speech on 18 September 2019 :”This celebration is indeed special, in that we celebrate the establishment of the Bellville South Library in 1969 and making it all the more significant is that we share this joyous occasion with the community who have kept these doors of wonder open for fifty years. While we have undergone many changes as a nation, province and city, this library remained the one constant in times of turmoil, times of triumph and does not only house books and information but the soul and progress of the community of Bellville, the greater City of Cape Town and the province at large. …she continued…” A library in the words of Caitlin Moran is “a library in

the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. They are the cathedrals of the mind, hospitals of the soul theme parks of the imagination. On a cold and rainy island, they are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen instead”.

  1. Bellville South Library was also the scene of the first unity talks between the various chess bodies. In June 1991 an exploratory meeting was held at the library. The former Minister of Cultural Affairs and Sport, Cameron Dugmore addressed the meeting in his capacity as a National Sport Council official. The parties decided to play a friendly match in the near future.
  1. The historic day dawned on 28 August 1991 and the venue was Bellville South library. A team led by me on board one played Cape Town Chess Club (the oldest in South Africa having been established in 1885) in a friendly encounter. The score was 10.5 to 2.5. with the Bellville South UWC only scoring one victory. The victory was significant because I beat the 6-time SA Champion Charles De Villiers on board one in the friendly match. This set the country talking as the strength of black chess players were then unknown.
  1. By this time I had made a number of other discoveries which excited me greatly about the libraries in Cape Town. The libraries at Elsies River and at Athlone subscribed to the American Chess Life magazine which kept me up to date with all the news from the Americas continent. Knowledge was important as the internet did not yet have its pulling power and was not known to us!
  1. Goodwood library subscribed to a chess magazine published in London called Chess. This kept all of us abreast of developments in England.
  1. Cape Town Central Library had some of the best books ever and I thoroughly enjoyed my once a month visits. Cape Town and Sea Point library subscribed to the New In Chess magazine which is a Dutch publication and is considered the best chess magazine in the world.
  1. Many of our chess events in the last thirty years were played at Rondebosch library. Rondebosch also had an extensive chess collection which we frequently used.
  1. In the 1990’s the chess league in Cape Town was played on a home and away basis. On a Monday night we played Bellville chess club at Bellville library which also had a vast collection of chess books.
  1. Elsies River library was busy on Tuesdays and before his retirement,Fuad Arnold at Leonsdale library ran chess programmes.
  • Belhar Library was the venue for Belhar Knights chess club and they often staged major events at the library.
  • Grassy Park library was often a hive of activity for the chess players in that area.
  • In 2002 Uitsig chess club was established and operated from Adriaanse library. We also started coaching at the Khayalitsha library in Site C.
  • Rocklands library has won the best public library award at theWestern Cape Cultural Awards three times in the last few years. Part of their programmes is chess. Many of the top Mitchells Plain chess players played there.
  • In the 1990’s we also established chess clubs at Ravensmead library, at Kuilsriver and at a number of libraries.
  • Libraries and chess have a special relationship. I thank all the librarians who have promoted chess at their libraries. Many chess players now attend the library to access the websites and stay up to date of chess news as the subscriptions have stopped some time ago.
  • A summer slam will be held at Rylands in December. It promises to be an exciting rapid one-day event.
  • Let us build the relationship between sport and libraries. A recent publication of the Cape Librarian stated that librarians are gas station attendants of the mind. Thank you for providing the fuel for chess to prosper!


Dr. Lyndon Bouah (written in my personal capacity)


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