Sunday, July 18, 2010
'Rude' word for whites sparks feud
Lekhoa, lekgowa, khoa ... wordsmiths battle it out
Jul 18, 2010 12:00 AM | By ROWAN PHILP
"The unseemly spectacle of white people fighting about what is not theirs, demonstrating precisely why we are called lekhoa." That's how author Antjie Krog describes an allegation of plagiarism against her.
WRITERS WRONGED: Tony Harding, left, and Antjie Krog are at odds over the use of the definition of the word 'lekhoa'
In a tiff over 'angry word'
In her new book, poet Krog used a definition of the word lekhoa - which describes white people as "rude", "shameless", and to "have no regard for other people".
However, another South African author has accused Krog of being guilty of just those qualities - for using, word for word, the definition he had coined, without giving him credit.
And a language expert said both were wrong about the Sotho word lekgowa, which he said was only an insult to whites if used in an insulting tone.
In an outraged letter to Krog's publishers this week, Johannesburg writer Tony Harding said he was considering "urgent legal action" because Krog's book Begging to be Black included his definition of lekgowa (which is also spelt lekhoa): "to lack decorum, to be rude, to cause embarrassment, to be disrespectful, to have no regard for other people."
Krog has riposted by accusing Harding of "using me" for publicity, and creating "the unseemly spectacle of white people fighting about what is not theirs, demonstrating precisely why we are called lekhoa ."
Having written the sentence in an article for the Sunday Times in 2007 - which he claims to be the first written definition of the word - Harding will publish his first book this week, entitled Lekgowa, about white identity.
Experts agreed with Harding that the word was increasingly used as a class as well as a race distinction, with blue-collar staff referring ironically to middle-class black bosses as "lekgowa la ka" (my white man).
Harding said: "Some novice comes along and challenges Antjie Krog, and it's like: how dare you? But I was furious - she had simply lifted my words, verbatim."
However, Krog said she had taken the definition from Wikipedia, not realising that Harding was the sole author of the article.
"I feel he made a mistake in putting original research on Wikipedia, which has a specific rule about posting only verified facts from multiple sources," said Krog. "He's scared others will think he stole it from me, which is unnecessary, since he clearly wrote it in an article three years ago. I didn't claim the words were my own; I put them in quotes for that reason."
On Wednesday, Harding amended the online page to reference Krog's book with the words: "source not referenced by author", which he admitted was "a dig" at Krog.
But while Harding called it "an angry word", Professor Nhlanhla Maake - former chairman of African languages at the University of the Witwatersrand - said the word simply meant "white person", which was only negative if "one attaches it through the tone of voice".
He said Harding's definition - developed with the help of language expert Professor Sekgothe Mokgoatsana - seemed "contrived".
He also disputed Harding's claim to a "first" definition, saying basic dictionary descriptions existed, and that the meaning of the term had long been intensely debated at the university.
"How can a word which has been used since the 19th century, at least in writing, be only 'defined' so late in its existence?" asked Maake. "Mr Harding sounds like Rip van Winkle; sleeping through the debate about the word in the '90s."
However, Maake admitted the term had "an obscure root" which could be debated, and agreed that it had become "a very interesting word", having had the element of class added in popular usage.
Lesotho's King Moshoeshoe is thought to have used the word in reference to visiting white missionaries in the 1830s.
Krog said she suspected "some other agenda" for the ferocity of Harding's complaint.
"It is a pity that the overpossessiveness of some makes it nearly impossible to function as a creative non-fiction writer. Even a Wikipedia quote, used in quotation marks, can now be disputed. I refuse to be terrorised by people who are using me to create publicity for themselves," said Krog.
However, she confirmed that her publishers would include a credit to him in the next edition of Begging to be Black.
Harding said he would no longer pursue legal action, in view of the undertaking to credit him, and was not alleging intentional plagiarism, but said he remained "angry".
"At the least, this is absolutely sloppy stuff on her part," he said.
Maake - now dean of humanities at the University of Limpopo - also disputed another meaning suggested in Krog's book, which states: "The word khoa as a noun refers to a kind of lice found on the hindquarters of domestic animals."
Maake said: "I definitely do not agree with that ... kgoa cannot be a noun."
Comments by Sonny
If Harding and Krog fight like this in public over the definition of one Sotho word, then, how will they be able to face a common enemy?
What will God have to say about plagiarising the tablets of the Holy Bible and Shakespeare say about his vocabulary and plays?
What is the definition of decorum amongst educated people on this planet?
We should concentrate on crime, corruption and the decay of our society instead of petty crap!
Whites do not seem to possess a code of conduct for their bad behaviour!!