A long time until checkmate
‘Checkmate Mdhara, hunza dhora rangu! (give me my dollar!)’ the shout rings across the garden. I’m at the Lion King bar and restaurant in downtown Harare, near the avenues; an old establishment that offers wifi for a dollar per two hours.
The players’ moves are frantic, every win punctuated by victorious shouts, and cries of anguish from the loser
I’ve been here a couple of times before, since I need wifi for my job, and I’ve noticed a group of young men gathered around a chess board. The players’ moves are frantic, every win punctuated by victorious shouts, and cries of anguish from the loser. After a while, I have to find out what this is all about.
Caradine Garananga is waiting for his Masters diploma from the National University of Science and technology. Like many young Zimbabweans, Caradine is unemployed, but he swears he covers his daily expenses from playing chess; ‘ruthlessly,’ as he puts it.
‘I went to South Africa and tried it out man, but I had to come back to Zimbabwe. At least I made an investment, and bought a chess board and a chess clock. Now I just come here every day and make money out of other people’s stupidity!’ He says with a laugh.
He’s tried to find a job in the country, but that’s not been easy in an era of massive retrenchments.
He explains, ‘We spend the entire day here man, playing Chess blitz, a dollar for a five minute game. For those of us who are employed, it’s a cheap way to relieve the pressure from the day’s work, and most of us just come here to relax. People from different professions come here: doctors, insurers, university students. Some of us have turned it into a job, on a good day I make about twenty dollars or more, depending on my prey.’
Today, Caradine is engaged in a battle of wits with Tawanda Zambuko, another unemployed young Zimbabwean, who swears he only lost the last game on a technicality. Watching from the sidelines, and awaiting his turn in the gladiatorial ring, is national chess team player, Hamilton Mandeya, who moonlights as a clerk at the Harare post office.
The Zimbabwean situation, with its high unemployment and rampant social decay, has led many people to desperation. Many young folk spend their time numbing their senses with cough syrup (bronco, or ingoma in our local lingo), or any other psychoactive substance they can get their hands on. Many others have resorted to sports betting as a way of making a living. Let’s not even mention the criminals.
These guys, however, are sitting in a bar, none of them imbibing (as far as I can tell), and spending their time sharpening their minds with the ultimate strategy game.
Caradine tells me, ‘The beauty of chess is that when you’re in a game you don’t even worry about what’s going on out there.’
There’s no denying that there’s a lot going on out there, but I can’t help but smile and think: here’s a story worth sharing. In the pressing situation that is Zimbabwe, people still have a choice on how to react to the chaos and confusion around them. They can give in, and drown, or they can find creative and productive ways to fill their hours.
When it comes to these young people, hope still lives, and the pieces still stand. Despite the tough times, it’s still a long time until checkmate.
Shaun Matsheza is a communication professional from Zimbabwe.