The other night, as I was listening to Abasikibebunda on uKhozi FM, uMongameli Zuma announced to the world the name of the ill-fated and ill-considered mission of the SANDF to the Central African Republic – Operation Vimbezela.

So, like any linguist with a political upbringing, I checked the meaning.

(As a side note, it’s wonderful to have a Zulu president – I would be clueless if it was a Sotho or Tswana word.)

What I found raises even more questions.

Vimbezela is, at its heart, related to the ideophone ‘vimbe’, denoting something being closed in, shut in or obstructed. What the full verb means is ‘make something go vimbe’ – in ordinary speech, ‘close something in’ or ‘obstruct something’. But apart from these basic meanings, the verb also means ”invest’ or ‘besiege’.

So I immediately asked myself – whom were we supposed to be besieging? Who was being shut in? Were we investing our soldiers? If so, with what potential return?

Whatever spin the government may feed the public about the operation, there is a blunt honesty in the name given to it. Whatever stories and apologies we hear, the original intention of that operation resists positive spin.

We went to CAR to stop something, to besiege someone, to invest something there.

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