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Krog debate: What if we don't want to take sides?

Helen Moffett

Etienne van Heerden's comments re partisanship on the Krog-Watson clash are noted, as are Mike Stevenson's. But why should we take sides, or weigh in "for" or "agin" one of them? Like Etienne, I am one of hundreds who respect both parties and feel torn. While I'm "qualified" (as an academic, as a creative writer and as an experienced academic editor) to comment on the issues raised, it feels like trying to be detached and intellectual while Mommy and Daddy are fighting.

Stephen is a friend and colleague from whom I have had decades worth of support. His compassion as I have shared personal crises will always stay with me.

Stephen might be publishing my poems, and he is also one of my favourite poets, but I also like Antjie immensely. She has given me invaluable encouragement and inspiration in my own tentative efforts to write creatively, and I thoroughly enjoy her writing.

To complicate matters still further, Tom Eaton is not only an adorable friend who has cheered me up at the blackest of moments, but also my editor Ė we are approaching the end of a mammoth project together, and if I take sides or stands, I run the risk of making an extremely happy working relationship awkward.

My position is by no means unique. What no one has mentioned so far in the debate is that the literary world in Cape Town is tiny. We all know one another, work together, are godparents to one another's children Ö there are deep networks of support, affection and respect involved. This isn't so much as about an English-Afrikaans language divide as an "insider-outsider" one. It's easy for those who don't know either party (or who perhaps know only one) to debate the issues and champion the causes. Those of us "inside", however, have complex emotional territory to negotiate.

I've been wanting to write a piece about plagiarism for public consumption ever since first Darryl Bristol-Bovey and then Pamela Jooste got fingered. As I have the unusual distinction of existing professionally in both the publishing and the academic worlds, I know that neither academics nor creative writers (and least of all the Sunday Times!) really understand what it is or what is involved, and the public remains hopelessly misinformed. This latest furore has made me think that I really do need to write that piece, but not while there is any risk of being seen to take sides or add fuel to fire.

LitNet: 13 March 2006

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