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PMB game ace aiming high
28 Mar 2012
Lunga Biyela

COULD three be a lucky number in the game of umlabalaba? It may be, along with one and two, if Pietermaritzburg’s ace comes out on top at the Traditional Games Festival in Lithuania later this year.

Simphiwe Maphumulo (24) won the junior and senior titles at the same world championships back in 2003, and was the first contestant ever to do so.

Now Maphumulo is sure that he’ll have a good chance in round three.

“I’m going to try my best to be in the top three,” the accounting graduate told The Witness yesterday.

“There is a big chance that I will win the entire competition.”

Maphumulo first started playing chess in 2002 when he was still in school.

“I used to play chess a lot, and I was introduced to the game.

“If you look at the game [umlabalaba] and put it into real-life context, we call the pieces izinkomo [cattle], and the middle square is called isibaya [kraal].

“If your cows are out of the kraal, they risk being captured by foxes, so you have to protect your cows in that manner,” he said.

“The game also teaches the player about maths, and the shapes involved, ” said Maphumulo, who works in accounts for Sanelisiwe Business Solutions in Pietermaritzburg.

Speaking about his first world championship win, Maphumulo said it was a great feeling to be recognised as best in the world.

“Competing against people from other countries is a whole new learning experience, and you get to learn about how others play the game.”

With his hopes for the future, Maphumulo said he would one day like to see himself in a managerial position, or as a coach.

“I’d like to start my own club one day. Currently there are no clubs in Pietermaritzburg, and a lot of the players play in school teams.

“I’d like the game to gain popularity, and maybe even become professional one day.”

He will be a part of a team of five attending the Traditional World Games in Lithuania in July.

The trip will be funded by the Department of Sports and Recreation.

The president of Mind Sports South Africa, Colin Webster, said there was huge interest in the game of umlabalaba. “The game is found in many different parts of the world, and is played under many different names.”

“For instance, in the United Kingdom, it is called 12 Man Morris.

“The oldest board I know of is scribbled on the floors of the pyramids of Giza, which are over 3 000 years old.

“A board was also discovered on a ship that sank off the coast of Portsmouth in the 1500s.

“It goes way back in South Africa. There were boards also discovered at the Castle in Cape Town,” he said.

As the game develops maths and problem-solving skills, Webster said, Mind Sports had been a part of a programme to introduce the game into schools.

“The government wants us to start funding schools of excellence around the country. There will be two schools per province and we have already identified two schools in KwaZulu-Natal, and they will both be in Pietermaritzburg.”

He said the game would first be introduced into primary schools, and possibly to high schools in the future.

“We believe that this is a game of the nation, and is a game that binds us all,” he said.





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