Sometime this week, I was listening to Ezisematheni (stories-on-the-saliva or on-the-tip-of-the-tongue) when I heard the following phrase:

i-NFP iyahlakaza izinhlaka ezintsha e-KZN

the NFP is hlakaza-ing new izin-hlaka in KZN

So of course my first thought was this: there must be an ideophone lurking at the heart of both those words. And I was right.

Hláka denotes the following 4 things:

1. scattering, spreading about, disorder, disarrangement

2. breaking down, demolishing

3. exposing, divulging


4. wisdom, cleverness, mental ability

This one ideophone has 3 derived verbs (at least) and 9 derived nouns. It’s even so cool that there is 2 other ideophones derived from it!

So let’s start with the verbs:

hlakahla: dismember (animal), take to pieces (house, piece of furniture); open out, expose to mental view, make clear to the intellect, analyse or solve a problem

hlakaka: scatter, break up in all directions (as a crowd); be exposed, divulged (as a secret)

hlakaza: scatter, spread about, put in disorder, disarrange, disperse; break down, demolish, knock to pieces; expose, divulge, publish

So we now know what the verb means… or do we? The beautiful Vilakazi and Doke dictionary I use regularly was last edited in 1958, and so sometimes isn’t quite up to speed with advances in terminology.

For that I also have Mbatha’s (2006) Isichazamazwi SesiZulu, which adds a definition of hlakaza as follows:

ukusakaza kugcwele yonke indawo (e.g. isizwe wasihlakaza ngezimpi)

to disperse so that everywhere is full as a result (e.g. the nation was scattered with armies)

So what they were meaning was that the NFP was dispersing izinhlaka across KZN. Now for the nouns (and hopefully we’ll find in-hlaka or ulu-hlaka in there somewhere!):

ili-hlaka: beestings, milk of the cow for the first few days after calving

in-hlaka: gum (from trees), resin; glue; cut glass; transparent glass beads

ulu-hlaka: reed-mat (i.e. a number of long reeds bound together by fibres, used for wrapping round foodstuffs, a human corpse, etc.); stretcher, bier; small hut, or kraal partition, built of a fence of reed-work (used for keeping calves or beer in); a travelling herbalist, who caries his medicines with him.

ili-hlakahlaka: tatters; anything torn and in rags (as clothes, a sleeping mat falling to bits, thatch on a hut); untidiness, dirty disorder (as rubbish lying about a hut, or dried food and dirt on the unwashed face of a child)

in-hlakanhlaka: tatters, anything torn or ragged; things lying about in disorder; disorderly conduct; liquid food with non-absorbent particles floating in it; branny substance; bad pumpkins which do not cook properly; coarsely ground grain

ili-hlakani: a clever, crafty, cunning person

ama-hlakavu: tatters, thing all fallen to bits, in rags (as a worn-out sleeping mat, garment or dilapidated hut

in-hlakavu: tattered garment or mat

isi-hlakavu: tattered garment or mat

So I guessed that they weren’t talking about glass beads, and went for ulu-hlaka as the root of the izinhlaka used above. But this still doesn’t help – why are the NFP dispersing reed-mats, or travelling herbalists, or small huts? Once more to Mbatha – but there’s no difference in the definition! So I turn to Nyembezi’s (1992) Isichazimazwi Sanamuhla Nangomuso (the word-explainer of today and tomorrow) – only to find exactly the same definition.

At a loss, I turn to the two ideophones that are derived from hláka:

hlákahla: of analysing, wisdom


hlákalala: of disorderly confusion, scattering about, commotion

Still not helping, until I took a closer look at the definition of u(lu)hlaka – a kraal-partition could be generalised as ‘a section’ or ‘a regional office’, couldn’t it? So you can translate the sentence as:

the NFP are scattering new stretcher-mats in KZN

the NFP are demolishing new small huts in KZN

the NFP are divulging new travelling herbalists in KZN


the NFP are deploying new regional offices in KZN

Much as the other translations are interesting, context dictates that the last one is the most probable one – but there is no way to capture the ambiguity (or the unspoken attitude to the NFP) of the isiZulu in the translation.

PS. the verb for ‘be clever’, hlakanipha, is derived from this same root. The reversive form of the verb hlakaza, hlakula, means ‘weed with a hoe’ or ‘unscatter’ or ‘tidy up a mess’.