Everyone knows about apartheid. They know that it was a system of racial discrimination that segregated the people of South Africa based on their skin color and treated them according to the White supremacist ideology of the Nationalist Party government. They know Apartheid was a crime against humanity. So, I stand corrected. No one knows about apartheid. No one knows about the thousands of protesters that yielded the liberation of the non-White South African population. Someone that has heard of Nelson Mandela and maybe Desmond Tutu, both integral to the fight against apartheid, is about as knowledgeable about apartheid as someone who knew that Anne Frank was a Jewish girl during Nazi occupation. However, you cannot blame them. Decades of government oppression and a well-oiled system of institutionalized racism put anyone that dared to criticize the government, White, Indian, Colored or Black, out of the country, behind bars, or into a grave. What remains is a free country with very few heroes to celebrate.
This is also the case for Richard Moore Rive, an apartheid resister who did not use a gun or protest banner to fight the system but instead went for his pen and paper. His legacy living and writing under constant oppression by the Nationalist government was one of proving the government and any supporter of apartheid “otherwise.” While the rulers in South Africa may have tried to spread and enforce stigmas and stereotypes about Coloured, Black, and Indian people in the country, Rive chose to break through those stereotypes and superficialities. The public may have thought that Black and Coloured South Africans could only work in low-skilled jobs and live a life of misery in the townships. Rive, however, did not accept this for himself going on to receive a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from University of Cape Town, a master’s degree from Columbia University in New York, and a PhD. from Oxford Magdalen College. Apart from his life proving the illegitimacy of the white supremacy ideology, his literary works addressed the unequal society in South Africa through ‘silent’ but not wordless and analytical protest.
Because Richard Rive resisted apartheid both through his writings and by living “otherwise”, this paper will follow Rive from his childhood in the famous District Six township, through his internationally successful academic and literary career, all the way to his gruesome murder at his beloved home in Cape Town. His life events and most significant publications will be used to highlight what his contribution was in opposing and fighting apartheid in his own way. It is hoped that after diving into this paper, the reader will have a better understanding of not only Richard Rive’s life story but his struggle in a country that did everything to deny and inferiorize his existence.
While there is a range of years claimed to be the time Richard Moore Rive was born, most biographers have agreed on March 1, 1931 (Viljoen 2006). His mother Nancy Rive had lost her husband to the influenza pandemic of 1918 and later got acquainted with the African-American ship handler Richardson Moore (Viljoen 2006). Out of this acquaintance sprung Richard Rive who grew up in the “huge, dirty-grey, forbidding, double-storied” (Rive) Eaton Place in District Six (Viljoen 2006). His childhood was marked by marginalization both in school and in his family. Not only did he have a different father, who left the family three months after his birth, but he also had a significant age gap with his older siblings, his closest sister Georgina being 12 years older than him (Viljoen 2006). Additionally, he had much darker skin than the rest of his family, a phenotypical difference that would put him at the receiving end of discrimination for most of his life (Viljoen 2006). While his family was not the poorest in his neighborhood, they certainly were not wealthy, requiring his siblings to sustain the family with their earnings (Viljoen 2006). And, they did move ‘up’ out of District Six in Rive’s teenage years into a middle-class suburb (Handley 2000).
Rive was baptized and confirmed at an early age, following his family’s religious background (Viljoen 2006). In 1966 he acknowledged in an interview to not being very religious, having gone through “all the stages of faith” such as theism, atheism, and agnosticism (Duerden and Pieterse 1972, 162). He also confirmed that religion had an influence on his writing. However, Rive clarified that by this he meant, not the institutional aspects of religion, but the unexplainable phenomena associated with religious faith (Duerden and Pieterse 1972). Despite being athletic and a keen reader of English classics, he began to struggle with his sexual orientation at an early age (Viljoen 2006). Rive’s desire for writing was inspired first by his mother and later by his need to “say something.” This desire crystallized when he began seeing himself as a Black person in South African society. Writing was his opportunity to “marry [his] literary interest to [his] socio-political interest” (Lindfors 2002, 320). The first piece Rive could remember writing was a poem about Wolraad Woltemade, a piece for which he won a competition at age ten. His first critical piece of writing was a short story, “The Bench,” which he wrote at 17 about a Black South African who dared to sit on a “Whites only” bench (Lindfors 2002).
Following his mother’s death and his High School graduation in 1947 he began writing prose and working as a clerk at a business called Phil Morkel where he stayed for two years (Viljoen 2006). Deciding that business was not the right track for him, he registered at Hewat Training College in 1950 where he completed his diploma to become a high school teacher in 1951 (Viljoen 2006). In his first job to teach at Vasco High School, he became a leading force in establishing the Western Province Senior Schools Sports Union, starting his instrumental involvement in intercollegiate sports in South Africa (Viljoen 2006). Around 1952, Rive took up a position as an English and Latin teacher at the prestigious Coloured South Peninsula High School where he would later become the Head of the English department and remain so for 20 years, staying especially involved with sports and athletics (Viljoen 2006). Simultaneously beginning a lifetime of continuing education, Rive enrolled for a part-time Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Cape Town (UCT) majoring in English.
The following years kept Rive busy with teaching, leading sports at South Peninsula and studying for his BA (Viljoen 2006). However, this did not keep him from making connections with fellow writers like James Matthews whom he met for the first time in 1955 at the office of the editor of the Black-oriented tabloid Golden City Post. The two writers developed a strong bond mainly rooted in their common home of District Six (Viljoen 2006). Furthermore, their mutual love for writing overcame the conflicts both men had with Matthews being critical of Rive’s well-educated, well-travelled, academic, and comfortable lifestyle while writing to empower his community from the township. This partnership was solidified by their contributions to Drum magazine in which they both wrote voicing their opposition to the recent Group Areas Act that would designate certain neighborhoods as White-, Black-, or Coloured-only (Viljoen 2006).
Drum magazine was very significant in supporting the causes of early South African writers such as Richard Rive and James Matthews. Firstly, it was one of the only outlets that would publish works by non-White writers who, as Rive says, “would have gotten started without [Drum] but whether [they] would have survived is another matter” (Lindfors 2002, 323). Rive claimed that back then, just as now, writers had to get published to continue their work. Additionally, magazines such as Drum acted as a form of communication between the Johannesburg and the Cape Town Black writers. Through Drum the writers always knew what was happening in the other city (Lindfors 2002). The two groups of writers, concentrated around La Guma, Matthews, and Rive in Cape Town, and centered around Drum magazine in Johannesburg initially did not communicate a lot until Rive began connecting both groups by visiting Johannesburg and connecting with his fellow writers there (Lindfors 2002).
Rive began to establish himself as a writer in 1955 when his short story “Dagga Smoker’s Dream” won a short story competition run by the New Age, subsequently published in September, as well as another short story called “Black and Brown Song,” printed in Drum magazine (Viljoen 2006). Both stories focused on “the stigmatized and marginalized individuals who [were] caught in the tensions that define[d] the hostile space they inhabit[ed] within their malignant society.” (Viljoen 2006, 93). Rive benefitted from this competition in other ways, as judge Uys Kriege arranged for the translation of four of his short stories into German and judge Jack Cope acted as his mentor (Viljoen 2006). In general, these competitions put Rive into the spotlight and built his reputation as a legitimate Black South African writer. They were his only chance of getting published and fortunately his stories proved to be the best of the submissions. (Lindfors 2002).
Rive’s writing of the mid to late fifties portrayed his vision of a non-racial society in South Africa, expressed through both angry but at the same time restrained protest against the apartheid oppression. This vision is best exemplified in the epigraphic poem to his short story “Black and Brown Song.” (Viljoen 2006). The violence of apartheid’s strict racial hierarchy is addressed in this short story in which three Coloured gangsters injure a Black man in District Six whom white police officers later hold accountable for his victimization (Viljoen 2006). The story gives insight into Rive’s attitudes towards racialism. His opinion was that too many Coloured people made use of their elevated status over Black South Africans. At the same time, Rive sympathized with these people that were marginalized not only by the Whites but also by the Blacks while dealing with tensions within their community as well. Much of Rive’s writing, set predominantly in Coloured communities, focuses on this issue (Scanlon 2000).
In general, Rive’s literary protest of the fifties reflected the government’s harshness and oppression. In the wake of legislation such as the Pass Laws and Group Areas Act, which for the first time codified the Nationalist Party’s cruelty against the majority non-white population, Rive was determined in writing about characters who were victimized by this repression. Catering for a white readership, hoping he could thus affect change, Rive painted his protagonists as humanly as possible, giving them the voice that he could not afford to have in a system that outlawed everything that wasn’t white or that questioned white supremacy (Scanlon 2000). Rive tried to inspire a sensitivity for these matters in his students at South Peninsula High where he would incorporate discussions about voting rights and politics into his classes (Viljoen 2006). While a majority of students viewed him as a riveting character, some criticized his cruel teaching habits like hitting students on their hands for their illegible handwriting (Viljoen 2006). In 1958 Rive moved into a flat on Caremont’s Selous Court with a roommate who remembered his being constantly paranoid about police raids.
Rive’s contact with Langston Hughes started after submitting a short story “The Return” for a competition hosted by Drum magazine in which Hughes was a judge (Viljoen 2006). The story follows a stranger who returns to a white area where he is insulted by the people around him. In response he goes to a Coloured area where he feels more comfortable but is still confronted with mistrust as the white and Coloured people base their bigotry in Christian values. After trying to enter a white church which immediately throws him out, the stranger reveals that he is Christ returning (Viljoen 2006). Hughes was so impressed by Rive and his story that he asked him to submit more short stories to be included in an anthology of African short stories he was working on (Viljoen 2006). This began a close relationship with a role model who would help Rive gain international recognition in the following years (Viljoen 2006).
The Sharpeville massacre and the Langa incident in the early sixties inspired Rive to write his novel “The Emergency” which was published in 1964. The first novel to be set in the Sharpeville crisis and the first novel to be banned in South Africa, followed a semi-autobiographical protagonist who finds himself in the middle of the uprisings against the Pass Laws as organized by the Pan African Congress (Viljoen 2006). Initially, the novel was received well as international reviews were favorable. A lack of domestic reviews was clearly the result of the censorship enacted by the South African government (Viljoen 2006). However, critics highlighted a lack of creativity and objectivity in this work (Viljoen 2006). The protagonist clearly reflected Rive as a cosmopolitan academic who enjoyed European classical music and literature. This choice gives an idea of Rive’s form of protesting apartheid by showing that Blacks and Coloureds could very well be cultured and connected to the world (Viljoen 2006). Rive lived this non-racialism he espoused by frequently crossing color lines, accepting invitations to Whites-only events where he was viewed as a new phenomenon. In 1963 Richard Rive’s first collection of short stories, “African Songs”, was published by East-German publisher Seven Seas. This work included his short stories of the fifties and early sixties (Viljoen 2006). In the same year, 16 short stories from a literary discussion group to which Rive belonged were published under the name of “Quartet: New Voices From South Africa.” (Viljoen 2006).
Never very confident about his skin color despite his well-developed opposition to racism, at South Peninsula High School and Hewat Training College Rive was maliciously nicknamed “Chokka” which was either used in reference to the Afrikaans word Tjokka, which translates to squid, or as a short form of Chocolate which his dark brown skin resembled (Viljoen 2006, 133). He often described himself in more moderate shades using words such as “deep tan”, “dark brown”, and even once referencing his “Aryan features.” (Viljoen 2006, 134). Whether that choice was an expression of the desire of not wanting to be black can be left up to interpretation. However, we do get hints about his sense of belonging to a certain ethnic background from an interview conducted by fellow writer Lewis Nkosi in London in 1963. He begins to answer Nkosi’s question whether he located himself in a certain ethnic group with: “I certainly do not see myself as part of an ethnic group and I certainly do not see myself as a spokesman for a particular group as such.” (Duerden and Pieterse 1972, 159). Rive continued, explaining that he identified as where he came from and by what had shaped his experiences. For him this did not include skin color since, as he argued, he might not necessarily relate to other Africans that may have the same skin color but came from totally different backgrounds with different life experiences. He further explained that he felt just as foreign in other African countries as he did in “Italy or Greece” and concluded his response by saying: “I am not Ethiopian, I am not Ugandan, I belong to the southernmost tip of the Cape Province and from there I function, I am urban South African, and I do not wish to be anything else” (Duerden and Pieterse 1972, 159). Three years later Rive was asked the same question in an interview with Ugandan playwright Robert Serumaga. To him, he simply answered that South Africans defined him as Coloured and African-Americans called him “one of those Coloureds you spell with a ‘u’” (Duerden and Pieterse 1972, 161).
In other aspects of life, Rive was very far from his Cape Town counterparts leading a cosmopolitan way of life that felt foreign to many of his peers. His distinct Oxbridge accent was one of these features that he proudly put forward even before attending Oxford. He worked actively and intentionally to counter and contradict the stereotypes that the apartheid regime spread (Viljoen 2006). He accomplished this by showing that not only could a Coloured person be more cultured than his white counterparts, but he could also feel disenfranchised due to the primitive images and characteristics the government attempted to associate him with. For example, in “Writing Black” Rive remarks: “I cannot recognize pam-fronds and nights filled with the throb of the primitive. I am buses, trains and taxis. I am prejudice, bigotry and discrimination. I am urban South Africa.” (Viljoen 2006, 136). With these words Rive established himself as a writer who was not going to give way to the oppression and inferiorization of the racist government which he acknowledged as part of his life as much as his urbaneness.
To continue in his feat of proving everyone “otherwise”, Rive departed for a trip sponsored by a Fairfield Foundation Fellowship in December 1962 (Viljoen 2006). In an interview, Rive admitted of not being aware of the Fairfield Foundation before receiving the fellowship, suspecting that Zeke Mphahlele was likely behind the choice of the Fairfield Foundation award (Lindfors 2002). The trip that was awarded to “widen his horizons and meet other Black writers” took him through many different African countries including Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt as well as Greece and Switzerland (Lindfors 2002, 327; Viljoen 2006). Throughout this trip, in these various places, he met with many local writers some of whom he liked so much that he included their works in the anthology “Modern African Prose” which he was asked to edit after arriving in London in 1963 (Viljoen 2006). After celebrating the publication of “African Songs” with South African exiles and other locals in Paris, Rive got news of his publication deal for “The Emergency” and “Quartet” in London (Viljoen 2006). Thus, his stay in Western Europe showed how easy it was for a Coloured South African to be accepted and interact with writers, artists, publishers, friends, and strangers, from societies that were not scarred by the injustices of apartheid. The highlight of Rive’s trip was surely meeting his role model Langston Hughes in person and for the first time in London where they went to see a production of Hughes’ musical “Black Nativity” (Viljoen 2006).
While Rive debated staying in London to escape the oppression of South Africa, he chose to return home in 1963 where “African Songs”, “Emergency”, and later “Quartet” would be banned by the government (Viljoen 2006). It was not easy for him to return to the country that inspired all his work, in the sixties which were a brutal time for censorship for Black South African writers. Those that did bend to being forced into exile distanced themselves from him as they feared that being affiliated with his work would get them into trouble (Viljoen 2006). When asked about the constraints that he faced in South Africa that would not affect him abroad, Rive replied that the constraints depended on the writer. He chose to restrain himself somewhat not out of political reasons but because he liked to distance himself from the action and analyze things rationally. “I’d like to have the feeling that I have thought out issues fairly clearly”, was his comment on the topic (Lindfors 2002, 331). He also addressed the larger problem of self-censorship calling on writers to say something if they had something to say. In regards to the risk of self-censorship he said: “Once that happens, real literature is lost” (Lindfors 2002, 331).
Only 2 years later in August 1965, he chose to leave for Columbia University to pursue studies in African and Afro-American Literature (Viljoen 2006), under Professor Robert Bone, specializing in the “Harlem Renaissance era” (Duerden and Pieterse 1972). During university breaks Rive taught at a school in Harlem East where he was challenged by the students’ discipline but intrigued by their ignorance about South Africa (Viljoen 2006). In the United States, he met again with Langston Hughes and became acquainted with other creative personalities such as Arna Bontemps, Jay Wright, Le Roi Jones, and Arthur Spingarn (Viljoen 2006). Rive further deepened his connection with Hughes on this visit as they discovered many common characteristics. Both were Coloured writers in oppressive white societies and from poor backgrounds. Both were athletic in their youth and generally closed off about their sexuality (Viljoen 2006). To Rive this was an especially sensitive topic. His homosexuality was only known to his closest friends, mostly because he only indirectly references it twice in his writing. Additionally, biographers were hesitant to write about such a sensitive topic during times before the LGBTQ movement and community had nothing close to the presence they have today (Viljoen 2006).
While Hughes and Rive shared many viewpoints, they disagreed on the writer’s role in society. For Hughes, a marginalized Black writer in America or South Africa had to also be a fighter which he manifested in his active support of the American left scene. Rive, however, saw two functions in the Black South African writer. He had to “storm the castle” as a Black man but “define the happening” as a writer serving as the “articulate memory of the oppressed people.” (Viljoen 2006, 157). Both writers disagreed on ideological issues. While Rive was a strong advocate of non-racialism, opposing the “existence of a separate black race and the very notion of ‘race’”, Hughes advocated for Black pride and causes such as Negro-Art (Viljoen 2006, 158). This was an issue that Rive felt differently about, calling “Negritude” a “completely false and ridiculous philosophy” (Duerden and Pieterse 1972, 159).
The issue of writers and the stigmatization of literature based on their skin color was Rive’s biggest cause for activism. In interview with Nkosi, Rive was asked what he believed distinguished South African from Black South African writing. His answer perfectly summarizes his opinion on writers and non-racialism:
“Almost nothing. I don’t for one moment believe that there is a difference which is very obvious in writing which can be tempered by such a surface manifestations as skin color at all, and I don’t believe in the point of view that certain writing in South Africa is the prerogative of and can be written only by a black man, or that certain writing in South Africa is the prerogative of and can be only written by a white as such. What is happening very strongly – and I’m very optimistic about this – is that a body of literature is emerging from South Africa which is going to be a South African literature regardless of the participants or the color of their skins” (Duerden and Pieterse 1972, 158).
Returning to Cape Town in 1966, his Master’s degree did not change his situation of being a second-class citizen. He continued at South Peninsula High School, and very little was heard from Rive during the mid-sixties, a period where apartheid clamped down on the public in a way that muted all but a few resisters (Viljoen 2006). In interview with Serumaga, he described his teaching of Latin and English Literature at South Peninsula High this way: “Well it sounds a bit like murder” (Duerden and Pieterse 1972, 166). This was in reference to his special interest in dead languages like Latin and Anglo-Saxon that have never been a favorite of High School students (Duerden and Pieterse 1972). Starting in 1967, he took up further studies at University of Cape Town (UCT), majoring in education. His students and his teaching kept him going during a time that put intense pressure on Black and Coloured citizens. Interestingly, Rive failed to mention Hughes’ death in 1967 in his memoir (Viljoen 2006). Instead, he occupied himself with supporting young writers while “South African literature became white by law”, that is, there was a prohibition on the possession or distribution of writing that was in any way critical of the apartheid regime (Viljoen 2006, 163).
Though mostly silent in the literary world during the late sixties, Rive published the short story “Middle Passage” in Contrast magazine in 1969 and wrote a short story “The Visits” in 1970 for which he received the Argus “Writer of the Year” award. “The Visits”, which tells the story of a protagonist who struggles with a closed-off roommate and a female black beggar who continues to show up at his house, can either be read as muted protest against apartheid or through a lens that highlights the inner struggle of homosexuality (Viljoen 2006). This “muted protest” best describes Rive’s resistance against apartheid. Rive believed that “there are those who must analyze, and there are those who are meant to interpret the analysis into some form of action” (Lindfors 2002, 327). He was clearly was on the analytical side of the movement. Feeling the need to leave the depressive situation in South Africa, he applied to Cambridge University, where he was rejected, then to Oxford where he was offered a “Junior Research Fellow” position (Viljoen 2006). He left in 1971 on a boat only 9 years after his first trip abroad but now a much more successful, established, and recognized writer, at home as well as internationally (Viljoen 2006).
Rive arrived in Oxford without having a clear idea of what he wanted to research. This was one reason, besides his denied passport, that Cambridge University had rejected his application. He had applied with the idea of researching the broad topic of an “Overview of African Literature in English”. Only later did he realize how the generality of this topic hindered his acceptance at Cambridge. Magdalen College was not thrilled about his research idea either but took a more open approach by accepting him first in order to figure out his topic later. There the professors helped him narrow down his topic to prose, then to the novel or short story, and finally the writings of Olive Schreiner and Pauline Smith. This left him with enough material to write a dissertation. However, he had to choose which one of the two authors to focus on. A coin toss resulted in Pauline Smith, so he chose Olive Schreiner (Lindfors 2002). For this reason, Oxford Magdalen College put him under the rubric of “Twentieth Century Writing” to guarantee adequate supervision of his research (Viljoen 2006).
Arriving at Oxford and coping with temporary homesickness, Rive soon rediscovered his creativity and reworked his short story “Middle Passage” to be published as the play “Make Like Slaves” which was produced as a radio play by BBC and won the first prize in the BBC’s “Writing Plays for Africa” competition (Viljoen 2006). At Oxford, Rive became acquainted with the local mentality turning himself into somewhat of an “Oxford Don.” (Viljoen 2006, 176). He also realized how he had internalized the stigmas that surrounded him in South Africa when he caught himself misinterpreting petty impoliteness as racist provocation. For example, he once got offended when a waitress in an Oxford restaurant treated him poorly. He initially assumed that her treatment of him was due to his skin color, but it turned out that she actually was sick of those “Oxford toffs” like Rive who treated her as inferior (Viljoen 2006, 176).
Richard Rive saw Olive Schreiner as the “epitome of liberal writing in South Africa” and showed special interest in the historical side of his research (Lindfors 2002, 328). Schreiner was a contemporary of the creation of the Union of South Africa with her brother being the Prime Minister of the Cape during the South African War. While Rive did not agree with most of Schreiner’s views – Schreiner was outspoken about justice but not equality -- these historical circumstances gave him the chance to again combine his interest in writing with that of South African political history. Moreover, there was another reason for his choice of topic. Homesickness had grown so heavy that he selected a topic which would require him to go back to South Africa and conduct first-hand research (Lindfors 2002).
This is exactly what Rive did from June 1972 to April 1973. He researched Schreiner’s life, combing through various archives which included the municipal library in Cradock and copies of Schreiner’s letters from the University of Texas (Viljoen 2006). In 1973 Rive was awarded his doctorate from Magdalen College and returned with a renewed sense of pride to his hometown. There, however, he was again confronted with the sad reality of apartheid: “In spite of my achievements and qualifications I was still an unenfranchised Black suffering under a policy of discrimination, born and nurtured in a notorious slum in a beautiful city in a bigoted country.” (Viljoen 2006, 184). This quote perfectly summarizes what Rive called his “love-hate” relationship with South Africa. He had utmost hate for the apartheid system but deep love for the people and their manners. They were the sustenance of his writing drawing him back every time (Lindfors 2002)
Despite the depressing situation in South Africa, circumstances appeared to be changing as silent suffering turned into more active resistance against the oppressive rule. This coincided with a new generation of South African writers called the “Soweto Poets” who, as the name suggests, favored poems as the medium for their expressions. Rive admired and supported this group which included writers such as Mbuyiseni Mtshali, Wally Serote, and Sipho Sepamla (Viljoen 2006). Simultaneously, Rive was asked to begin writing for the sports page of the Sunday Times thanks to his continued involvement in the sports scene of Cape Town. The paper granted the request to publish a column of his each week but quickly rebuked that privilege after Rive began adding political messages to his writing (Viljoen 2006). His last year teaching at South Peninsula High confirmed his popularity with students who found inspiration for the arts and literature through his classes (Viljoen 2006). However, allegations also started to surface of inappropriate touching of some young male students, a behavior that would later be confirmed to concern far more young men (Viljoen 2006).
In October 1975, Richard Rive took up a senior lectureship position at his alma mater Hewat Training College where he continued to teach English and didactics while still being involved in sports (Viljoen 2006). In this new position, Rive continued to fight against racial inequality, including the introduction of “Writer’s Territory”, an anthology of Southern African stories with one of his banned stories, into the curriculum of Coloured schools (Viljoen 2006). As student protests and revolts began in Soweto and other parts of South Africa in 1976, Rive continued to support non-racial sports with interschool athletic championships. In 1977, Rive published “Selective Writings” which was a collection of his short stories from the late fifties and early sixties plus the short story “The Visits.” (Viljoen 2006). This short story won him the Writer of the Year competition in South Africa in 1970 (Scanlon 2000). The publication came at a good time for him as it boosted his reputation after a period of silence and secured him several job offers from the mostly segregated UCT which he declined because of their ignorance of South African writers.
This was an issue Rive was especially careful about. He avoided becoming complacent with the situation in South Africa because he believed to otherwise be judged by the writers in exile. To the best of his abilities, he continued to resist becoming comfortable in the apartheid environment by not accepting any job offers from ethnic universities. Still, he was convinced that anyone that could work in South Africa should do so unless they were in exile or had mental problems. He voiced this opinion by saying: “I think I have a contribution to make and I think that I am making that contribution” (Lindfors 2002, 332).
“Selective Writings” also included some critical essays written between 1964 and 1967 which discussed issues such as censorship, South African poetry, Olive Schreiner, an interview with Langston Hughes and memories from his time at Oxford University (Scanlon 2000). In the essay “No Common Factor”, Rive argued against the position that African writers had to be Black claiming that “merit not anthropological or political interests” should define whether a writer is African (Viljoen 200, 197). This brings us back to Rive’s strong advocacy for non-racialism as he showed inclusivity for white African writers in the South African writing scene. Still, Rive criticized officials at white universities for not including Black literature in the syllabi. The demand for this writing was evidentially there as he had to resort to the largest hall for his planned seminar on African writers which had attracted an incredible number of students. In interview, Rive identified that, in fact, there was less resistance against the inclusion of such literature from the government than from the university officials. He added: “Their students have objected to this kind of academic conservatism. In fact, it’s neo-colonialism at its very worst” (Lindfors 2002, 335).
In 1978, Dr. Richard Rive was awarded a second Fulbright Scholarship which had him leave for Texas in 1979 to undertake post-doctoral work at the Humanities Research Center of the University of Texas and venture on a lecture tour around the United States. In Texas he was supposed to research the letters of William Plomer. However, the racial geographic segregation both in and outside the University and apparent correlation between skin color and socio-economic class together with the idealistic views many African-Americans had of the African continent intrigued him and motivated him to explore the racial attitudes of U.S. - Americans instead (Viljoen 2006).
On this trip, his memoir “Writing Black” would be drafted in form of a speech with strong autobiographical links that he wrote for his keynote address at the African Literature Association Conference at University held in Bloomington, Indiana (Viljoen 2006). In the United States, Rive was interviewed and asked what the greatest difficulties and rewards were of writing in South Africa. He identified writing at the mercy of the regime as a struggle and mentioned that the government only ignored controversial writings if there were more pressing emergencies to deal with. On the other hand, he appreciated “to be able to say what you wish to say in the most meaningful way you can in South Africa for a South African audience” (Lindfors 2002, 338). In this case he reiterated his strong bond to the South African people pitying the writers in exile that did not reach “their” people (Lindfors 2002, 338).
Following his U.S. travels, Rive committed to a series of lectures in the UK sponsored by a British Council scholarship which took him to Sheffield, Leeds, York, Sussex, Loughborough, and Kent Universities. He finished off his international trip with a visit to Oxford where many people remembered him (Viljoen 2006). Back in Cape Town, Rive started to have a house built in the wealthy coloured neighborhood of “Windsor Park” while sending drafts of his Bloomington speech to friends who recommended he made it a book (Viljoen 2006). After his fourth large-scale international trip, Rive was now a well-established writer and leader of the educational and literary world both locally and internationally (Viljoen 2006).
The 1976 revolts stirred things up in South Africa as marginalized groups began organizing greater resistance throughout the country. Rive was most likely affected by the rise in salaries for Coloured professionals and intellectuals which increased the divide between them and the semi-skilled or unemployed Blacks and Coloureds (Viljoen 2006). At first, Rive fit into this wealthy group of Coloureds as he moved into his newly built house in Windsor Park after turning 50 in March 1980. The neighborhood, which was also known as Heathfield, was one of the nicest middle-class coloured districts in a system still based on the Group Areas act of 1950. While Rive distanced himself geographically from the stigmatized coloured areas such as District Six, he very much stayed engaged with the people there who served as the material for his writing (Viljoen 2006). This balance of engaging with the Black population in South Africa from a safe distance was reflected in Rive’s interpretation of the role of a writer. He once said: “It’s a big question whether a writer should preach or sing. I think he should do both – not too much preaching and not too much singing either” (Lindfors 2002, 339). Ian Rutgers, a student from Hewat College, lived in the house with Rive until 1982 (Viljoen 2006). In 1981, Richard Rive’s memoir “Writing Black” was published by David Philip. This turned out to be a difficult decision for the author as he feared to implicate his friends from South Africa by writing about his relationships with them. For that reason, the book mainly focused on his experiences overseas (Viljoen 2006).
Two years later, in 1983, Rive published yet another collection of short stories titled “Advance, Retreat” that included a number of his older short stories which he edited slightly to become politically correct for the times as well as the two new short stories “Riva” and “Advance, Retreat.” These two new short stories that were dedicated to his roommate, Ian Rutger’s, first child focused on the issues of liberal white activists who fail to let go of their patronizing attitude (Viljoen 2006). In the mid-eighties, when the resistance against apartheid had grown strongest, Rive associated with organizations such as the New Unity Movement and the South African Council on Sport promoting his idea of non-racialism in high school and college sports (Viljoen 2006). At the same time, between 1985 and 1986, Richard Rive and his teacher colleagues at Hewat College “supported, redirected, and defended student resistance in form of sit-ins, marches, refusal to write exams, and demonstrations” while two big events in the history of apartheid resistance happened around the college: the Trojan Horse Incident and the regrouping of a march to free Nelson Mandela (Viljoen 2006, 225). These events would become the backdrop for his novel “Emergency Continued” and “Mrs Janet September and the Siege of Sinton.” (Viljoen 2006, 225).
Simultaneously, District Six gained significance for the apartheid resistance as groups such as the Hands Off District Six movement, which Rive actively supported, began to form using this neighborhood as a representation for all forced removals in South Africa (Viljoen 2006). In this time, Rive put an emphasis on being an activist but more so from the distance. As he was especially taken by the incidents right around Hewat College, he used his writing to capture the moments and transcribe history.
In 1986, Richard Rive published his novel “’Buckingham Palace’, District Six” which became his most successful work. Beginning as a 1984 newspaper story about a child’s Christmas in District Six, this story evolved into a semi-autobiographical novel about a group of characters living in a row of houses called “Buckingham Palace” on Caledon Street in District Six (Viljoen 2006). It plays over a 15-year period and is sectioned into three parts that highlight the community in 1955, 1960, and 1970 respectively. In a rather humorous way it criticizes the destruction of a harmonious community through the Group Areas Act and apartheid in general. The mainly fictional content was inspired by Rive’s personal experience growing up in District Six and serves as a documentation of the cruelties exercised by the National Party (Viljoen 2006). The novel was so well received that it was prescribed for matriculants in the Western Cape from 1997 to 1999, published in Holland, the UK and U.S., and translated into Italian, French and Spanish (Viljoen 2006). Additionally, Rive agreed to transcribe the story into a play to be performed at Hewat College directed by Colleen Radus and Shaun Viljoen (Viljoen 2006). The successful play was picked up by Baxter Theatre, a venue affiliated with the University of Cape Town and one that Rive had actually boycotted in the seventies because of regulations that required theatres to attain permits for multi-racial audiences (Viljoen 2006). In 1988, Rive republished his novel “The Emergency” presumably to regain public interest as he was writing the sequel “The Emergency continued.” The continuation of that story follows a clearly semi-autobiographical protagonist who struggles between the comforts of his stable lifestyle and engaging in the political activism and resistance against apartheid led by the students in the eighties (Viljoen 2006).
Richard Rive addressed his tendency to write mainly novels and short stories that followed semi-autobiographic protagonists in the interview with Robert Serumaga in May 1966. He described writers in a social context as “the synthesis of all [their] experiences” including himself (Duerden and Pieterse 1972, 161). He continued that a “writer is the interpreter of the society in which he finds himself” (Duerden and Pieterse 1972, 161). This coincided with Rive’s conviction to addressing the inequalities of apartheid through a literary, analytical approach. Additionally, Rive claimed that in his opinion a writer could not function if he became too political and disregarded his personal life in his writing. The results of such writing would, said Rive, be closer to propaganda than creative literature (Duerden and Pieterse 1972).
Richard Rive had reached the highpoint of his career and life in a situation that reminds us very much of his meeting with his role model Langston Hughes 26 years earlier in London where they both watched Hughes’ musical “Black Nativity.” After the dress rehearsal of the Baxter Theatre production of “’Buckingham Palace’, District Six”, which Richard Rive attended personally on Friday, 2 June 1989, the director, Basil Appollis, remembers Rive saying: “Now I can die.” (Viljoen 2006, 258, 243). Little did he know that his casual remark would become a reality only hours later.
On Saturday, June 3, Rive picked up 22 year old Vincent Donald Aploon and 17 year old Suleiman Turner from their accommodation in one of Cape Town’s poorest suburbs (Viljoen 2006). Rive had been seeing Aploon for about six weeks ever since he had driven him home from a nightclub, resulting in a relationship that most likely included sexual encounters. For that night, Rive had encouraged Aploon to bring a friend to his house. It is evident now that the young men had clearly intended to rob Rive that night as they brought a kitchen knife from a house in the backyard of their boarding house. What is not clear are the exact events that happened in Windsor Park that night. Turner’s testimony to the police stated that Rive had at one point said something that the young men interpreted as a sexual advancement which led them to take his car keys in response and demand that Rive drove both home or they would steal the car. Turner further stated that, as Rive tried to retrieve the keys, the writer broke a whiskey decanter on Turner’s head escalating the situation which resulted in the young men stabbing Rive to death (Viljoen 2006). There are several points to this account that must be seen critically as researchers’ caution to believe Turner’s description of a sexual advancement from Rive’s side. It is known that Rive only ever had sexual encounters with young men by themselves and not with other people involved. That is why Turner’s explanation of the murder is to be taken with a grain of salt as it is unlikely that Rive would have strayed from his habits this night. What is clear though, are the 22 stab wounds that were administered to Rive by the kitchen knife that the young men had brought with them. While any of these stabs could have killed the writer, it is also evident that he put up a long struggle as the blood stains in every room of his house later revealed. Ten days after the murder, Aploon and Turner surrendered to the police in Johannesburg (Viljoen 2006).
On June 10, 1989, a small funeral was held by Rive’s closest friends followed by a memorial service at Hewat College on June 13. One year later, Aploon and Turner were sentenced to 13 and 10 years in prison respectively, securing early release after only serving five (Viljoen 2006). Furthermore, the murder investigation revealed that, throughout his time directing sports programs, Rive had taken photos of more than 200 young sportsmen either half or completely naked using the explanation that he was writing and illustrating a book on athletes. It is also believed that he participated in some sexual activity with several of them (Viljoen 2006). Richard Rive’s will granted all autographed books and his personal library to the Magdalen College library, while his paintings, manuscripts, private papers, and future royalties were left to Leonhard du Plooy who donated everything to the University of Cape Town. Rive, left his house in Windsor Park with its contents and his car to his former roommate Ian Rutgers whose family he was very close to in the last years of his life (Viljoen 2006).
Richard Rive was not the ordinary Coloured writer from District Six, he was not an ordinary Coloured man in South Africa, in fact, he was not an ordinary man at all. He was an individual in society that fought against orders of any kind. In his lifetime this mainly concerned the resistance against the inhumane order of apartheid. Rive believed that there should not be an order to race because he did not believe in race at all. His outspoken belief in non-racialism was formed in a country that functioned on the exact opposite ideology. While he could have taken his thoughts to the streets and joined the active fight against apartheid, Rive chose to act as a writer should, by his definition. He synthesized his experiences into his short stories using them to carefully analyze and commemorate the socio-political environment of his time. At the same time, he actively resisted the orders of apartheid by living a life that broke with the status quo that the Nationalist government tried to establish. As a Columbia and Oxford graduate who listened to Beethoven and Smetana and revered writers like Shakespeare and Locke, Rive established himself as a cosmopolitan who proved the proclamations of the apartheid system wrong. He showed that Blacks and Coloureds could be educated and erudite, they could be well-travelled and international, and they could be productive, prolific, creative and successful. He proved that he was equal in all and then some, to his white counterparts. Therefore, it was less his activism, literary works, and academic teachings that made him a indispensable participant in the resistance against apartheid, but more his life story of excellent and exemplary education, philosophical devotion, and cosmopolitan behavior.
This article forms part of the South African History Online and Principia College Partnership Project
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