Eddie May remembers Richard Rive – Part 3

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THIS is the final chapter of a three-part series about former star athlete and sports coach, the 84-year-old Eddie May remembering his long-time friend, celebrated author and academic Richard Rive. 

(Read part 1: Eddie May salutes life-long friend Richard Rive)

(Read part 2: Eddie May remembers Richard Rive – Part 2)

AS Richard Rive grew financially independent through his teaching and lecturing career, he was able to live on his own.

Says Eddie May, Richard Rive’s District Six childhood friend: “He eventually moved into an apartment near Livingstone High School in Claremont before settling in Elfindale in Heathfield.”

While May became a highly-respected sprint coach for mainly senior athletes and continued with his business, Rive took up a teaching post at South Peninsula High School. He also had a brief spell as a teacher at Athlone High School in Silvertown, Cape Town.

Richard Rive
Richard Rive, left, and Eddie May. Rive’s photo was taken by George Hallett.

While still a high school teacher, Rive pioneered track and field athletics on a sophisticated level for pre-dominantly coloured high schools in the Cape.

The process of an independent high schools organisation was initiated by Harry Hendricks. Rive fine-tuned the process at Western Province Senior Schools Sports Union (WPSSSU) level by introducing a raft of changes and structures to the inter-schools system.

The birth of the WPSSSU was in Kimberley in 1954 when former athlete, sports administrator and academic Harry Hendricks was at the forefront of the formation of an independent senior schools body and the decision had been taken to separate the primary schools from the high schools. (Hendricks was the last serving South African Amateur Athletics Board president which was essentially the senior body of club athletics.)

Strength-versus-strength structure

Athlone Stadium
An inter-schools meeting at the old Athlone Stadium in Cape Town.

The Kimberley decision was implemented in 1956. For the next eight years, schools participated against each other at inter-school and inter-union level and in other forms of competition (such as biangular and triangular meetings).

However, there was no strength-versus-strength structure in place yet to determine who would be the top school and which athletes would qualify for inter-provincial athletics meetings at the SASSSA champs. This is where Rive played a pivotal role in high school athletics.

At the time, schools competed in biangulars, triangulars, quadrangulars and the one-sided inter-schools meetings, where weak schools competed against stronger schools.

Rive changed the format of inter-schools and improved it to a strength-versus-strength competition.

Green Point Track
An athletics meeting at the old Green Point Track in Cape Town.

He was a school teacher at South Peninsula High School where Attie de Villiers was the principal.

Rive, a person of strong character and intellect, and a former athlete himself, said to the athletics fraternity (the newly-formed WPSSSU) that “we must have an athletics organiser”.

Rive summarily appointed Cecil Blows to be the organiser which was to become known as the convenor of the athletics. Still a top athlete in 1964, Blows hand-picked his athletics committee.

Between 1956 and 1964, the primary schools were allocated the Green Point Track, simply because of the sheer difference in numbers between the high schools and primary schools.

The high schools used the agricultural grounds of Goodwood, Cape Town.

Champion of Champions

Green Point track
The old stand at the Green Point Track, minus its track history, which is buried under the grass in front of the stand.

At the time, in 1964, there were three sections: Sections A, B and C (the sectional meetings). Gerald Hendricks of Salt River High School (not Harry Hendricks), Cecil Blows and Richard Rive were the first convenors of inter-school athletics; an event that would eventually become the largest assembly of athletes in the world during apartheid.

The first Champion of Champions meeting was held at the Green Point Track in 1964. The top eight schools, based on the number of points won on the day, would form the A Section the next year, the next eight schools would be in the B-Section and so on.

Inter-schools athletics meetings, as described above, were in force for the next 30 years (1964-1994). Previously (before 1964), schools had to draw their names from a hat to determine in which section they belonged.

City Park
An inter-house march pass at City Park Stadium, Cape Town.

Rive not only masterminded the essence of high schools athletics, he served in various capacities as an administrator and manager for many years.

The foundation for the highly successful high school meetings lay in the inter-house meetings.

Alexander Sinton High School’s Dennis Mackay introduced the first inter-house meeting of its kind, with a new format in 1960, at a Cape Town school in 1960. (Mackay was a physical training graduate from Wesley Training College.) Schools such as South Peninsula High had already had inter-house meetings since 1954.

The inter-house meeting comprised of groups of boys and girls pupils between the ages of 14 to 18 (and sometimes older), together with the teaching staff. With the help of Alexander Sinton’s first principal Franklin Joshua, the groups (houses) were named after the student residences of Fort Hare University in the Eastern Cape, essentially a black university where the late South African President Nelson Mandela studied law before moving to Wits University.

Hewat Training College.
Post Tenebras Lux. After darkness, light.

At Alexander Sinton the houses were called Beda (red), Iona (blue), Moffat (green) and Wesley (yellow) – this made up the competition for the inter-house athletics meeting.  It was to be the forerunner of the process of eliminations of athletes for bigger and more challenging athletics meetings.

Eliminations were held on different days: sprints on one day, the field events on another, and the long distance races on the third day (although not all schools made use of three days – some used fewer, others slightly more).

In between, schools had triangular meetings as preparation for the inter-school proper meetings.

Many schools followed this process of sorting out the athletes before the next level of inter-school meetings. But there had been no inter-school meetings in the manner it had been organised from 1964 to 1994 – the year of 1994 being the birth of democracy in South Africa.

Rive slowly retreated (he wrote a book called Advance Retreat) from active involvement of high school athletics because of his new position at Hewat Training College as Head of English, and, of course, the organisation of the high school meetings were in the highly capable hands of Blows.

Roti and curry

Richard Rive
Richard Rive’s clothing cupboard from District Six.

But, Rive did not stop visiting May, who was just down the road from Hewat at his home and panel-shop.

“Richard was at Hewat already in 1975, he came here often,” says May.

Rive, particularly liked visiting May at his home on Sundays, for roti and curry.

“Richard loved roti and curry,” says May.

On May’s premises is Rive’s District Six clothing cupboard which is now being used by a boarder in a separate entrance of May’s Athlone home.

“Richard’s clothing cupboard is in that room, I don’t have the key to the room, though, as the current boarder is out of town.”

A photograph of the cupboard was taken this week and should be placed in the District Six Museum.

Their friendship was life-long until Rive’s death in 1989. May was in Canada when he heard about the death of his friend.

Eddie May
Eddie May.

“I visited Cape Town in the year that Richard died, and I visited his brother Davey at an old age home in Kensington. I was disappointed that Richard did not bequeath his house to his brother Davey, who looked after him,” says May.

May, who emigrated to Canada in 1980, recently returned to his adopted country after a three-month visit in Cape Town, and hopes to come back to the Cape again in September for another three months.

Having spent a considerable amount of time with May while he was in Cape Town, this writer can say that he appears extremely mobile and fit for a man of 84, and is still up for new challenges:

“I would like to coach at schools, perhaps at Trafalgar or South Peninsula,” he says, “the schools Richard attended and worked at.”

  • The writer of the story, Clement du Plessis, deliberately chose to leave out Richard Rive’s personal life.

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