Calling checkmate on our nation’s education emergency


When Justice Ripinga started playing chess, he had other things to worry about. Then in Grade 9, the student had to navigate his way through school in a district with a severe lack of educational resources, where only seven percent of the population have attained higher qualifications and only 30% have completed matric. But his brief foray into the world of knights and bishops would end up consuming his life. Within a year of picking up his first piece, Ripinga became dazzlingly competent, excelling at the sport. Now in Grade 12, he’s using the game to further himself and the younger learners in his school while surging to academic success.

Chess is an uncommon sport in the small town of KaMhlushwa. But Ripinga is rapidly outranking his national peers. He has travelled the country, representing Mpumalanga as a member of the South African Junior Chess Championship Team. This is on top of his academic and family commitments. These include being a student leader for Imagine Scholar, a programme which provides mentorship and educational opportunities to deserving students. The worthiest candidates are determined over the course of a year-long process of rigorous assessment. Having been selected, Ripinga is using his position to pass on his knowledge. He facilitates a weekly chess club meeting where he teaches critical thinking and has also launched a community tournament with a friend.

Ripinga has a natural affinity for the mental gymnastics of the sport. But he’s also dedicated hours to honing his skills in order to play well and thrive in school. Soon he will be developing his leadership abilities internationally, having just received a full scholarship to attend the Yale Young Global Scholars' Program for two weeks at Yale University in the United States. Once he completes matric, he will attend the African Leadership Academy after being chosen from hundreds of scholars across the continent. Always remaining one move ahead, Ripinga is conquering his chess opponents while maintaining a promising academic career.