Riot by Casey Motsisi
In Riot by Casey Motsisi we have the theme of struggle, defiance, conflict, escape, compassion and apartheid. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realizes from the beginning of the story that Motsisi may be exploring the theme of struggle. Maria is struggling to get Boetikie to sleep. He is thirsty and hungry even though he has already eaten. The fact that Boetikie is so defiant is interesting because in many ways this mirrors what happens later on in the story at the riot. The people at the riot are also defiant and outraged that an old man has been killed by the bus. They are also boycotting the buses because of the sudden, and in people’s eyes, unnecessary increase in the price of travel. The bottle of brandy also serves to act as a symbol of escape for Maria. She finds it difficult to raise Boetikie on her own following the loss of her husband and the reader suspects the struggle raising Boetikie and the loss of her husband has led Maria to drink too much. She also gets defiant when she drinks telling herself that she will not go and collect the washing.
If anything there is both an internal and external conflict in the story. The internal conflict is how Maria feels about her life and how she struggles, looking after Boetikie who is Nana’s son. While the external conflict occurs during the bus boycott riot and the policeman being killed. The policeman plays an important role in the story as he represents compassion and apartheid. He is unlike other policemen and does not wish to prosecute Maria for drinking the brandy. If anything the compassion shown by the policeman to Maria may be rare, particularly at the time of apartheid. When black South African’s were treated differently to their white counterparts.
There may be other symbolism in the story which might be important. MaSello may be seen to represent black South Africa and the struggles that young boys and men encountered. The police are trying to arrest MaSello’s son and MaSello is protesting his innocence. Like a lot of young black boys or men who were arrested during apartheid. The charges against them would have been weak and without proof. The Policeman who tells Maria to hide her brandy bottle could be seen to symbolize the compassionate side of an individual who knows that apartheid is wrong. After all apartheid discriminated against people due to their skin colour. The riot in Sophiatown acts as a microcosm of apartheid and serves to highlight just how discriminatory apartheid was.
The end of the story is interesting as we discover that the policeman who helped Maria has been killed in the riot. Something that affects Maria deeply. She has witnessed the compassionate side of a white person and felt for him and was appreciative of what he had done for her. Despite the differences in skin colour Maria does not wish for the policeman to be dead. Regardless of how she feels about the police. Who at the time were the enforcers of apartheid and often violent and disregarding when it came to the feelings of those they were supposed to protect. If anything Maria by going to bed early and Boetikie not asking for water or food are aware that things are only going to get worse for them and their neighbours now that a policeman has been killed. There is sure to be more riots and violence.