IT WAS by sheer accident that Athletics Clipboard stumbled on an incredible trove of previously untold stories about District Six and one of its most famous residents, the celebrated author, and academic Richard Rive, during an interview with former star sprinter and athletics coach Edward David May.
May, 84, enjoyed a long and highly respected career as sprinter and coach in South Africa and Canada, his home for the last 36 years. Few people know, though, about his life-long friendship with Rive, whom he had known since their childhood days in District Six.
In this first chapter of a special three-part series, May pays tribute to his late friend (Rive died in 1989 in Cape Town) and shares many stories that have never before been published before.
May has many fond memories of his childhood escapades with Rive in the mountain and on the beaches of Cape Town and has the greatest admiration for his friend’s contribution to athletics.
It was athletics that brought the two of them together: the one would go on to pioneer high school athletics on a strength versus strength basis, while the other would become a reputable sprint coach of many years.
The story unfolds with May giving his personal account of Rive and their friendship.
The two were both born and bred in Caledon Street, District Six in 1931 just below St Mark’s church.
May’s parents were Gladys Maggott and David John May (the son of a Scotsman). May was the second eldest of four children – the eldest being Leonard, followed by Cynthia and Bobby. (Bobby, born Abubaker, was born of a different father after Eddie May’s father died.)
May’s wife of many years Henrietta (Hettie, nee Schippers) was an outstanding athlete in the 1960s and early seventies. They had two daughters who were equally talented athletes, Jacquie and Sandra. Sandra passed away in 2015 a few months before her 51st birthday.
Eddie and Hettie divorced several years ago. His Canadian friend Beatrice Olorenshaw accompanied him on his recent visit to Cape Town.
Rive was raised by his eldest brother
Rive was the youngest sibling, by many years, of eight children. Their names were Georgina, Davey, Arthur, Harold, Douglas, Lucy and Joseph. The history of his parents is mostly uncertain.
Rive received his first schooling at St Mark’s Church School before moving on to Trafalgar Junior and Trafalgar High School.
It was at Trafalgar that May and Rive met and developed a life-long friendship until Rive’s untimely death in 1989.
May completed Std 8 and took up a trade, while Rive went on to complete matric.
After high school, Rive worked at Philip Morkel furnisher shop.
Says May: “With no parents around, the Rives had to look out for each other – well at least some did. Davey, who also worked at a furnisher shop, fixed Richard up with a job at Philip Morkel.”
Doctorate from Oxford University
It is not clear how long Rive worked at the furnisher shop, but he eventually enrolled to study teaching at Hewat Training College.
In Rive’s words: “Of course, I went to Hewat.” (Cape Herald, 1985)
He went on to obtain a BA degree from the University of Cape Town, followed by an MA degree from Columbia University. He topped off his academic qualifications with a doctorate from Oxford University.
Rive was a visiting professor at several Ivy League universities, including Harvard, and travelled Africa extensively.
In an edition of the Cape Herald in 1985, Rives says, “I think I am a good educationist, but there are better ones, many of them.”
Rive went on to become an internationally recognised writer – his literature having been published in more than 20 countries.
Climbing Table Mountain
May says his friendship with Rive was interrupted by Rive’s frequent visits to overseas universities, but he remembers his friend well.
“Richard lived in Caledon Street and I lived in Ayre Street. He would shout in his booming voice from the balcony of their apartment, ‘Eddie come! We are going to climb the mountain’,” recalls May.
Mountaineering was, as it still is today, a very popular activity among Capetonians.
“We would take the bus up Kloofnek Road to Tafelberg Road and start climbing from there,” says May. (In those days, the blacks sat upstairs and the whites downstairs in the same bus.)
May says they enjoyed climbing the mountain on most Sundays.
“Richard was a strong mountaineer. We descended on the beach side of the mountain on a track of which I cannot remember the name any longer,” says May.
Although Rive lived in Caledon Street, “he had to go to the back of the apartment” to look and see the home of May across from Ayre Street.
“Richard lived on the second floor of a triple-story apartment block called Winter Gardens. We lived close to the famous Seven Steps,” recalls May.
The entire Winter Gardens building ran from Tennant Street to the back of Hanover Square – the entrance to the building being on Caledon Street, which ran parallel with Ayre and Hanover Streets.
May remembers the two-bedroomed apartment that Rive shared with his brother Davey very well.
“I can picture the kitchen, the dining room and two bedrooms. Richard’s room opened up on two balconies facing Caledon and Ayre streets,” remembers May.
“Davey looked after Richard. He educated him, fed him and reared him,” says May.
In the words of May, “Davey used to buy a lot of canned fruit. He made sure Richard was looked after.”
He also recalls a Mrs Prins, who lived across the hall way from the Rives and help them by cooking for them and doing their washing.
Different shades of white and dark
The other siblings were much older than Rive and were married by the time he completed matric at Trafalgar High School.
Several of his siblings were extremely white whereas Davey and Georgina were dark like Rive.
May remembers Georgina and Fred Josias. They lived in Bruce Street.
“Georgina lived in Bruce Street, near Holy Cross, in the uppity part of District Six,” says May.
Lucy, who was, fair, lived with Georgina in Bruce Street for a while before moving to Coronation Street in Walmer Estate.
“They were a nice family. The boys were extremely well-spoken, prim and proper – very English,” recalls May.
May last saw and visited Davey shortly after Rive’s death in 1989 at an old age home in Kensington, Cape Town.
(Eddie May was interviewed by Clement du Plessis, April 2016)