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Kwela responds

Nèlleke de Jager, Publisher: Kwela Books

Prof. Stephen Watson accuses the poet Antjie Krog of plagiarism in the current edition of the literary magazine New Contrast (Vol 33, # 2). In a paper entitled “Annals of Plagiarism: Antjie Krog and the Bleek and Lloyd Collections”, Watson discredits the literary and creative integrity of Krog by stating that she has committed plagiarism in the stars say ‘tsau’.

Kwela Books is confident that no plagiarism has been committed by Krog in the stars say ‘tsau’. The original source, Specimens of Bushmen Folklore, a comprehensive collection of Bushman narratives edited in the second half of the 19th century by Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd, is mentioned throughout the publication and credit is given to all the /Xam poets whose work is featured – in fact highlighting these artists’ creative sensibility far more than any previous publication has done.

There is a long and complex history of the use of Bleek and Lloyd’s collections. A leading Cape academic, Annie Gagiano, branded Watson a “cultural trophy hunter” with reference to his Return of the Moon: Versions from the /Xam, based on extracts from the Bleek and Lloyd collection, and published in 1991.

The Bleek and Lloyd collections have inspired a wide variety of publications. The earliest poetic interpretations of these texts are probably contained in the Penguin edition of South African Verse, compiled by Jack Cope and Uys Krige in 1968. Stephen Watson’s Return of the Moon was published in 1991, and a decade later, Alan James compiled The First Bushman’s Path: Stories, Songs and Testimonies of the /Xam of the Northern Cape. Well-known South African artist Pippa Skotnes has also used the Bleek and Lloyd collections as inspiration for her work. Her publication Heaven’s Things (1999) contains several texts from the Bleek and Lloyd records, referring to myths and folklore of the sun, stars and moon.

It is therefore presumptuous of Prof. Watson to allege that Krog “stole” the idea of adapting extracts from these texts from him.

Antjie Krog’s the stars say ‘tsau’ is, as indicated, one in a series of publications that have used the Bleek and Lloyd collections to give voice to the largely forgotten language and culture of the /Xam people. In both the Afrikaans and the English editions of this book, Krog has clearly stressed that she tried to “keep as close as possible to the original transcriptions” of the Bleek and Lloyd collections. Describing her work method, she states that “sometimes there were hardly any changes necessary”. At no point does the publication attempt to credit Krog as the author of these poems. The cover clearly indicates that Krog “selected and adapted” text from the Bleek and Lloyd collections. Furthermore, at the beginning of each section, the featured /Xam poet is credited clearly, together with an accompanying biography and photograph. The five /Xam poets are also acknowledged on the front cover of the publication.

Prof. Watson’s claims that Krog has committed plagiarism in the stars say ‘tsau’ is therefore devoid of any truth. We regard his comments to be libellous.

LitNet: 19 February 2006

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