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The old English saying, ‘Dynamite comes in small packages’ can be aptly used to sum up Botswana Junior National team chess player, Woman Candidate Master (WCM) Naledi Marape. For any person who does not know Marape, the nine year old chess prodigy would pass for any other normal kid. She likes her Barbie dolls, something which she would ask from her father Dr Marape Marape to buy her should he ask what to bring her from his many travels. And just like any other girl child, she counts popular Nickelodeon kid programmes, Mako Mermaids and Victorious among her favourites. In fact, WCM Marape is so shy you have to listen very intently to hear her speak in interviews. “She is a very shy kid,” his father Dr Marape quips in as I try to goad her to speak with me. It is even hard to think of this kid as a chess prodigy of note, but do not let the kid fool you. This shy Naledi who sits across me for an interview is a far cry from the one who terrorises other players on the chess board, the Naledi, who at nine years holds the record for Botswana’s youngest titled chess player. Once given the chessboard, the nine year old transforms into such a formidable opponent that even the most seasoned of chess players dread to come up against.
One player who had the opportunity to cross paths with WCM Marape on the chessboard is none other than Botswana’s Women International Master (WIM) Boikhutso Mudongo. In one of the hardest fought spectacles at the recent Botswana International Open Chess tournament, the young Marape pushed her illustrious opponent to the limits, with Mudongo eventually snatching victory with just 14 seconds left before her (Mudongo) time was up. “When we met, she gave me a hard time as she attacked me relentlessly. I had to pull myself together because I realised that if I do not raise my game, I am going to lose. She is a brilliant young player who plays with the maturity of a seasoned chess player,” Mudongo, who emerged the winner of the ladies open, said of the young WCM Marape.
What makes this young player’s achievements even more amazing is that she has played chess for only a year and a half. “I started playing chess in January last year. I was always watching my father and my brother playing and I loved the game,” the young WCM says. With the WCM title in the bag, Marape says she has now set her eyes on the highest title, the Woman Grand Master (WGM) title. “I want to have the WGM title by the time I am 14 years of age,” the youngster said in an interview. But does she know what it takes and how many titles she still has to win before she reaches there? “I know I still have to win the Women FIDE Master and the Women International Master before I can be a WGM,” the young WCM says confidently. Marape’s enthusiasm is shared by her father, who believes the youngster has all the qualities needed to achieve the title by the time she is 14. According to her father, once the young WCM took to chess, she never looked back. “She loves this game. One thing I like about her is that she developed the love of chess herself. She is a very motivated player who is not intimidated by anyone once she gets on the chessboard,” Dr Marape says of her young daughter.
Dr Marape says another great quality which will help young Naledi is that she is always ready to play against anybody, men included. “A lot of lady players here prefer to play against ladies only. Naledi is always ready for anyone. She will play against me, her brother or any other opponent. In the tournaments she plays in South Africa, she has faced both young and old men in the chessboard and has won as many battles. She is not scared and this gives me optimism she can indeed reach her ambitions by the time she is 14,” Dr Marape explains.
While aware of her daughters’ ambitions, Dr Marape says the family is trying all it can to ensure she is shielded from unnecessary pressure to achieve. “We want her to grow up like any other normal child. We do not want a situation where she becomes an adult without going through all the stages of growing. To us, she is a daughter first, a student and then a chess player. She is not a star,” Dr Marape explains. He says through chess, both Naledi and her brother, Marape Marape Jnr, have learnt valuable life lessons which he hopes will be of great benefit as they grow up. “They have learnt about life, loss and perseverance. They know that they will win some and lose some. The best thing is that they have, through chess, also learnt entrepreneurship. Together with her brother, they run a small company called Young Grand masters Chess Clinic. They charge a small fee to teach other kids chess and this in a way is their way of giving back to the community. Naledi teaches and coaches the girls while her brother deals with the boys,” Dr Marape, himself an avid chess player explains.
Aside from chess, Naledi, who confesses that Mathematics is her subject of choice at school, says she intends to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a doctor.