Rive, Richard (Moore)

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RIVE, Richard (Moore)

Nationality: South African. Born: Cape Town, 1 March 1931. Education: Hewat Training College, teacher's certificate 1951; University of Cape Town, B.A. 1962, B.Ed. 1968; Columbia University, New York, M.A. 1966; Oxford, D.Phil. 1974. Career: Teacher of English and Latin, South Peninsula High School, Cape Town; visiting professor, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1987; lecturer in English, academic administrator, and head of English department, from 1988, Hewat College of Education. Fulbright scholar, 1965-66. Awards: Farfield Foundation fellowship, 1963; Heft scholar, 1965-66; Writer of the Year (South Africa), 1970. Died: (murdered) 4 June (?) 1989.


Short Stories

African Songs. 1963.

Advance, Retreat: Selected Short Stories, illustrated by CecilSkotnes. 1983.


Emergency. 1964.

Buckingham Palace, District Six. 1986.

Emergency Continued. 1990.


Resurrection, in Short African Plays, edited by C. Pieterse. 1972.

Make Like Slaves, in African Theatre, edited by G. Henderson. 1973.


Selected Writings: Stories, Essays, and Plays. 1977.

Writing Black (autobiography). 1981.

The Black Writer and South African Prose (criticism). 1987.

Editor, Quartet: New Voices from South Africa. 1963.

Editor, Modern African Prose. 1964.

Editor, Olive Schreiner Letters 1871-1899. 1988.



"Rive: A Select Bibliography" by Jayarani Raju and Catherine Dubbeld, in Current Writers, October 1989.

Critical Studies:

"Form and Technique in the Novels of Rive and Alex La Guma" by B. Lindfors, in Journal of the New African Literature and the Arts 2, 1966; interview by L. Nkosi and R. Serumaga, in African Writers Talking, edited by D. Duerden and C. Pieterse, 1972; "South African History, Politics and Literature: Mphahlele's Down Second Avenue and Rive's Emergency " by O. O. Obuke, in African Literature Today 10, 1979; "Literature and Revolt in South Africa: The Cape Town Crisis of 1984-86 in the Novels of J. M. Coetzee, Richard Rive, and Menan Du Plessis" by Paul B. Rich, in Span: Journal of the South Pacific Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies, October 1993, pp. 471-87.

* * *

Short story writer, novelist, and playwright, Richard Rive has as the ethos of all his work the now-demolished, so-called "coloured" ghetto of District Six in Cape Town in the formerly apartheid-ridden South Africa. This leads to his stories, as he himself saw them, having a tightly constructed framework of both time and place.

Rive's opposition to oppression is evident in all his short stories. Although he spoke out strongly against the status quo, he was not an active member of any political organization. Something of an anomaly among black South African writers, he chose not to go into exile but continued his work at home; this led to the ire of some writers abroad who accused him of being a collaborator with the government, even though his works were banned for about 15 years.

He was one of the founders of the protest movement in South Africa, being a black writing against the government from within the country and directing his stories largely at white readers whom he felt could effect change, as he points out in his autobiography Writing Black. He was suspicious of white liberals who wrote about the tyranny of the times but could never experience what it was really like to be discriminated against on the grounds of color. His discomfort with and objection to their patronizing attitude is evident in several short stories; for instance, the early story "Drive-In" describes the gathering of several would-be writers, including a token black to whom an overly color-conscious white woman keeps on trying to prove her liberalism but underlines differences throughout with sentences such as, "I know how hard you people have to work, sweetie." Rive depicts this "you people" liberal syndrome in many of his works, including "Make Like Slaves" and the much later "Riva." Other whites are often seen to be ignorant, dull, and brutal, and the racists obviously are estranged from God, as found in the unusual (because of their religious message) stories "No Room at Solitaire" and "The Return" where Christ appears as a black, underlining the idea that "if Christ came back we wouldn't recognize him."

Rive insisted that in South Africa art had to be propagandistic rather than art for art's sake. In his stories we see how politics influences the lives of all people (rather than what the individual's effect on politics is). This is evident in the protagonist in "The Bench," who is stirred to sit on a whites-only bench at a railway station and triumphs when he is dragged away; but he is no Rosa Parks, and the impression is that his actions will have little, if any, effect on the community, let alone the country as a whole. We find this is Rive's last short story, too, that features his most delightful and graphically depicted character, the eponymous heroine in "Mrs. Janet September and the Siege of Sinton," which gives a true, first-hand account by an elderly woman who insisted on being arrested with a group of protesting students. This clash with the authorities is seen throughout Rive's writings and is depicted as one-on-one physical violence (not always racially motivated), found in stories such as "Rain," "Dagga-Smoker's Dream," "Moon over District Six," "The Return," and "Willie-boy," all underlining the rabid nature of the society depicted by him.

Although most of the governmentally designated "coloureds" in the Cape have Afrikaans as their first language, Rive's characters generally seem to have English as their mother tongue, and when they do not they still prefer to use it, especially those who aspire to some sort of social success: "Sophisticated Charmaine," he writes in "Rain" in 1960, "was almost a schoolteacher and always spoke English." This reference to Charmaine also appears in "Mrs. Janet September," published 27 years later, and adds to the impression that he is really writing about a cohesive group of people in a ghetto, where everyone knows everyone else, and also that his stories and characters seem to be not the fruits of imagination but rather a portrayal of people and a recounting of incidents he experienced or that others had told him. We find this in stories as diverse as "The Man from the Board," which concerns a black man who is investigated because he lives in a whites-only racial area (the incident based on Rive's own situation); "Incident in Thailand," which depicts his encounter with a grieving woman in the East and then reflects on his own situation in South Africa; and, of course, "Mrs. Janet September," whose title character tells her story to "Dr. Richard Rive." Rive's theme might largely be the oppression of "coloureds," and he did grow up in District Six, but he appears as something of an outsider in some of his stories, having left the area, becoming "grossly over educated" (as he regarded himself), and adopting rather sonorous tones in conversation, quite alien to those he left behind, as we see in the short story "Riva" with the "highly educated coloured" student.

Although he was opposed to "colouredism," considered himself as speaking for all the oppressed (as he states in his autobiography), and objected to himself being labeled a "coloured" (as apart from black) writer or academic, a stressing of racial differences comes out strongly in his stories. His characters are aware, often grossly conscious, of these differences because of their suffering, as with the "coloured" woman in an early story, "The Return," who expostulates, "I never trust a Kaffir or a White man," and with the bereft woman in "Resurrection," who remembers her mother as "old and ugly and black," as she also seems to be, whereas her siblings have all tried for white and rejected their original environment, heritage, and family as embarrassing. Rive's characters often reveal racial bigotry and a consciousness of their fitting into the "coloured" classification, as is found in "Street Corner," where several youths object to "Tom's brother" wanting to join their club because he is too dark and looks like "a bloody nigger": "Our constitution debars Africans and Moslems from our Club." Through the garrulous Mrs. Janet September, Rive mocks current terminology: objecting himself to the term "coloured" as denigrating, he uses her to poke fun at the fashionable nomenclature "so-called coloureds" by having her refer to the group as "socalleds."

Whatever term is used, they remain almost the sole focus of Rive's writing, people whose lives he depicts as they struggle under an oppressive regime, in a bigoted environment and in which the prevailing emotion is one of anguish.

—Stephen M. Finn