First Strike
A High School Diplomacy Tournament

by Dorian Love

One of the central issues in South African sports is the question of development, extending the benefits of sports to communities previously disadvantaged by Apartheid policies. First Strike is an annual Diplomacy Tournament held at St. Enda’s Secondary School in Johannesburg. St. Enda’s is an inner-city, historically Black school set in the midst of the urban decay of Hillbrow, a suburb considered so dangerous many people fear to venture in.

The school itself, however, is something of an oasis, born out of the educational boycotts of the 1980s, and is one of the few schools founded in the inner-city when education collapsed in the townships, to have survived into the Liberation era. Originally called the Freedom Centre, the name was changed to deflect unwarranted attention from the Security Forces. It is something of a flagship of inner-city schooling, boasting an excellent pass rate, and secure finances thanks to excellent management and a Trust Fund that has allowed computer labs to be built and extra staff to be hired.

The school has few sporting facilities apart from a modest swimming pool, and a volleyball and basketball court which doubles as a car-park. With little physical space, the school has actively tried to promote mind sports, and the Wargames Club has an active presence. Draughts, morabaraba, figure-gaming and Diplomacy are all actively played.

Dominic Aphane
2003 & 2004 Champion

First Strike I - 2003

In 2003, an annual Diplomacy Tournament called First Strike was begun. The idea behind the tournament was to introduce new players to Diplomacy, and to improve the standard of play. A single game was played in the 2003 Tournament. Moves were made every lunch-break. The game was declared a two-way draw in 1907, when a school holiday loomed large, leaving Neo Mohapi and Dominic Aphane joint winners. The game was distinguished by players moving single units at a time, forgetting to make support orders and with a high number of misorders. However, a number of spectators would provide an active recruiting ground for Diplomacy in general.

One spectator was Edi Birsan who was visiting South Africa at the time. Edi's generous donation of several diplomacy sets was to enable the club to play more than one game at a time!

First Strike II - 2004

In 2004, the tournament went on to boast 12 players and three games. Dominic Aphane emerged as the clear winner with a board-topping win and a solo victory in his two games. Games were again played to 1907, with moves every lunch-break. A number of the players in the tournament started actively playing Diplomacy at South African Wargames Union Championships, validating the idea of using a school tournament as a breeding ground. Dominic himself topped the Schools Rankings. However, at the 2004 Gauteng Schools Championships held at the school, it was Musa Mnisi who emerged as the top Diplomacy player, earning provincial colours for winning all his games. Diplomacy in South Africa falls under the aegis of the South African Wargames Union, and is government recognized, meaning official provincial and national colours can be awarded for playing Diplomacy.

Musa Mnisi
2005 Champion

First Strike III - 2005

In 2005, the First Strike Tournament matured in many ways. Four games were played, again at lunch-times, but games were now played to 1915, and play was speeded up to allow three moves per session, meaning games lasted an average of two weeks. The standard of play had improved greatly too. With fewer misorders, players actively using supports, and the cutting of supports, playing alliances, and some metagaming too, it is evident that many of these school players are now capable of playing competitively with older players. Musa Mnisi, the Gauteng Schools Champion, and 2005 Gauteng Champion, won the tournament with two solo victories and a second place. Dominic Aphane, still considered school Champion going into the tournament was quickly nobbled in every game he played in, while Thato Ntema with a solo, a second and a third place, came in second in the tournament. Pumla Mpili was third.

Looking back on this year’s tournament, I am left with a few impressions. First of all, one can begin to speak, I think, of the emergence of a township, or is it a schoolboy style of play. Players delight in boasting. Most negotiation takes place at the table, giving a Wilsonian feel to the game. Although secret negotiations are not unknown, they are not the norm, and it is certainly permissible to laugh openly at an opponent’s difficulties, or to boo his misorders. Players who are late in getting orders in are particularly apt to be chided. In short there is very little that is Diplomatic in the way these youngsters play the game, but their enthusiasm is greatly encouraging. Scarcely has the bell rung for lunch-break when the sound of running feet can be heard outside my classroom. The board is taken down from my shelf and the pieces set up almost before I can pause to draw breathe. Negotiations begin immediately, as well as loud comments about who the latest victim of a stab is likely to be.

Three of the youngsters in this tournament played in the World Masters tournament this year as part of the Diplomatic Corpse Team. Of the three, Dominic Aphane, Musa Mnisi and Pumla Mpili, only young Musa was not eliminated in his game. None of the three were particularly communicative, finding the e-mail format as well as the e-mails they received a bit intimidating. All three tended to play gunboat style. By contrast, in their own environment, all were formidable negotiators.

All in all, I believe this tournament to be somewhat unique, both in its format, successive games played over a lunch-break, and in its intent to blood young players at school level and draw them into wider competitive play within the SAWU structure of tournaments.

Dorian Love

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