Final Word

Zuma the queen in endgame designed by Guptas?

Chess.jpg

Media suggestions that President Zuma has entered the ‘endgame’ of his term as state president because of links to the Gupta family has some interesting symbolic implications.

The term ‘endgame’ – also recorded as two words – is generally accepted as having developed from the board game chess.

When it was first used is not exactly certain and one source, Dictionary.com, claims it was first recorded in 1881. Another source, the Online Etymology Dictionary, places its first recording in 1850.

About its roots in chess there are, however, no arguments and it is generally accepted that it refers to the final stages of a chess match when most of the pieces have been removed from the board. There is no formal or exact definition for ‘endgame’ in chess, but it is generally accepted to start after the queen or queens have disappeared from the board and the forces have been seriously reduced.

One of the characteristics of an endgame in chess is that the king, whose protection is one of the main objects of the game, becomes a lot more exposed.

In the mid-1900s the term began to be transferred to other activities in reference to the final stages of almost any process, activity or competition. This transfer of meaning initially took place especially in the sphere of negotiations in the world of diplomacy and the development of treaties.

Literary use

The Etymology Online blog tells us that Endgame made its first prominent appearance in the literary world in 1957 in a one-act play by that title from the pen of Samuel Beckett.

The play was originally written in French under the title Fin de partie. The style was that associated with the Theatre of the Absurd and it was first performed in French at the Royal Court Theatre in London.

Beckett himself subsequently translated the play into English as Endgame and it is commonly considered, along with such works as Waiting for Godot, to be among Beckett’s most important works.

I leave the symbolic implications for a comparison to the Zuma situation to the reader, but do consider the following about the four characters in Beckett’s play:

  • The main character Hamm (for hammer), who is blind and unable to stand and behaves badly, in a manner seemingly guaranteed to ensure that no audience member would like him or care about what happened to him;
  • Hammer’s servant, Clov (from French clou for nail) who is unable to sit;
  • Hammer’s father, Nagg  (from German nagel for nail) who has no legs and lives in a dustbin; and
  • Hammer’s mother Nell (for the resemblance to the death knell ) who also has no legs and lives in another dustbin.

Hammer’s parents die shortly one after the other, his servant abandons him and he is doomed to starve to death.

History of chess and the Guptas

The exact history and development of chess as we know it today is the subject of dispute and a number of countries lay claim to its origin.

However, most historians claim that it all started off in Northern India during the time of the Gupta Empire (320 to 550 CE) with a board game known as chaturaṅga, which translates as “four divisions (of the military)”: infantry, cavalry, elephantry, and chariotry, represented by the pieces that would evolve into the modern pawn, knight, bishop, and rook, respectively.

From India the game migrated to Persia where it evolved further, first called chatrang and later shatranj before it from there via trade and other routes spread to various parts of the world, including Russia, Europe and Japan. Players would call out Shāh! (Persian for king) when attacking an opponent’s king.

And when the opponent’s king had no escape left, it became Shāh Māt! (Persian for “king is helpless”). This in turn would give us the modern term ‘checkmate’.

Final word

However, some of the roots of the game in the original reference to the military divisions endured to this day. The chess piece called ‘rook’ gets its name from the Persian word rukh, meaning chariot; the piece known as the ‘bishop’, in Spanish is still called alfil which is the Arabic word for elephant; and in India the most powerful and destructive piece on the cess board, known as the queen, is still called rani (their equivalent for queen).

We suspect that for Mr Zuma the Gupta connection will be similarly everlasting.

by Piet Coetzer

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