On Writing "Duplicity and Plagiarism in Zakes Mda's The Heart of Redness"
Research in African Literatures :: Vol. 39, No. 3 (2008)

     In 2006, as I prepared to introduce Zakes Mda's The Heart of Redness to my fellow students in a graduate class at Yale, I realized how extensively the novel relied on Jeff Peires's The Dead Will Arise in its narration of the Xhosa Cattle-Killing. Although The Heart of Redness briefly acknowledges the historical text, my classmates' reactions to a side-by-side comparison of several passages suggested to me that the acknowledgement was insufficient. Indeed, our enthusiasm for discussing the novel diminished after the comparison. We were saddened to see how unsubstantial Mda's own representation of the historical event was. Even though it comprised only half of the narrative, the novel's foundation faded under closer examination. At the urging of my professor, then, I investigated the nature of these borrowings and presented the findings as a final research paper. This became the article recently published in Research in African Literatures.

     My article draws a line between intertextuality (i.e., alluding or referring to previous texts) and plagiarism, and it suggests that The Heart of Redness falls across that line. While Mda notes that Peires's book "informed" the novel's historical events, this brief acknowledgement leaves the reader unaware of what The Dead Will Arise's real contribution is. (And if Mda had wanted to call attention to such use of a source, this could have been achieved without interrupting the narrative flow.) Nevertheless, I sought to measure just how much material the two works share.

     The textual similarities can be grouped into four categories (below). Here are a few of the 88 examples--some as short as a sentence, others as long as two paragraphs--detailed in my article's appendix:

 1. Paraphrasing
  The Dead Will Arise The Heart of Redness
a. Messengers from distant African nations--the Sotho, the Thembu, the Mpondo, the Mpondomise--all sent to him for war charms or for the secret of catching witches. (29) Messengers from the distant nations of the Basotho, the abaThembu, the amaMpondo and the amaMpondomise visited him, asking for war charms and for the great secret of catching witches. (25-26)
b. He despised the way the Methodist congregations 'told their hearts' in public, and he yearned for the private confessions, the beautiful robes [. . .] (34) The Methodists, he said, told their hearts in public. He preferred the private confessions of the Anglicans. Also, the Anglicans wore more beautiful robes. (52)
c. On 16 February 1857, the longawaited eighth day, the sun rose as usual about six o'clock, neither late nor blood-red. 'The sun rose just like any other sun.' (157) On 16 February 1857, the longawaited day dawned. The sun rose. It was not the colour of blood. It looked like any other sun. It did not rise late either. (242)
d. The rapid spread of lungsickness seemed to prove the strangers' words that existing cattle were rotten, 'bewitched' and 'unclean', and encouraged the people to destroy these in the hope of getting 'a fresh supply of clean and wholesome' beasts. 'They have all been wicked,' implied Mhlakaza, 'and everything belonging to them is therefore bad.' The old cattle were tainted and polluted and the new cattle would be contaminated by them.
[. . .]
   They brought with them a whole new world of contentment and abundance. 'Nongqawuse said that nobody would ever lead a troubled life.' [. . .] 'There would rise cattle, horses, sheep, goats, dogs, fowls and every other animal that was wanted [. . .].' (80)
'The rapid spread of lungsickness is proving the Strangers right,' he said. 'The existing cattle are rotten and unclean. They have been bewitched. They must all be destroyed. You have all been wicked, and therefore everything that belongs to you is bad. Destroy everything. The new people who will arise from the dead will come with new cattle, horses, goats, sheep, dogs, fowl and any other animals that the people may want. But the new animals of the new people cannot mix with your polluted ones. So destroy them. Destroy everything. Destroy the corn in your fields and in your granaries. Nongqawuse has told us that when the new people come there will be a new world of contentment and no one will ever lead a troubled life again.' (60)

 2. Copying
  The Dead Will Arise The Heart of Redness
a. Dying wives watched helplessly while the family dogs ate the corpses of their husbands. (243) Dying wives watched as the family dogs ate the corpses of their husbands. (293)
b. ...a mysterious black race across the sea, newly resurrected from the dead. (73) 'A black race across the sea, newly resurrected from the dead [. . .]' (95)

 3. Replicating Semantic Strategies
  The Dead Will Arise The Heart of Redness
a. They slaughtered cattle for the amafaca ('emaciated ones'), feeding them [. . .]. (261) Now they were slaughtering cattle and feeding the amafaca, the emaciated ones. (295)
b. He issued formal commands (imiyolelo) to the Xhosa nation, ordering them to obey the instructions of Mhlakaza [. . .]. (87) At the same time he sent imiyolelo--his formal commands--throughout kwaXhosa that all amaXhosa should obey Mhlakaza's instructions. (89)

 4. Borrowing Sections Sequentially: Entire passages appear sequentially in both works. In my article I represent this by charting the page numbers of each instance on a graph. The results show that as the plot of The Heart of Redness develops, it pulls material from The Dead Will Arise in sequence.

     By relying so heavily on the historian's text, one must ask what effect this might have on Mda's novel as a whole. My article discusses these creative liabilities and builds off previous observations from other critics. André Brink noted in the Washington Post (2003), "In The Heart of Redness, Zakes Mda revisits (but unfortunately does not fully reimagine) from a black perspective the great cattle-killing of the 19th century [. . .]." Meg Samuelson, in her latest book (2007), remarked that the textual similarities left Mda "little room for interpretative work on the historical narrative."

     What saddens me most about The Heart of Redness is that we readers of South African literature have lost an opportunity to read a substantial account--for the first time--of the Xhosa Cattle-Killing from the perspective of a Xhosa novelist. Instead, we are given another author's paraphrased words and vision. And without clearly attributing how much of the novel originated in Peires's text, most of us likely assume the material to be Mda's.

     The results of this research led me to the unsettling conclusion that The Heart of Redness contains plagiarized text. While I make this claim in my article, I have no interest in labeling Mda as a plagiarist. For me, this is about a more fundamental and important issue related to the nexus of history, literature, and authorship.