Sad as it is to write about these things, they occur so commonly in SA society (and in the media) that NOT to write about them would be like praising the Emperor’s new clothes.

So. Abuse. The English word is derived from Latin – abutor has two basic meanings:

“to use up any thing, to use to the end, to consume entirely” and then “to misuse, abuse, or take advantage of someone or something”

The basic root of the word is a deponent verb, utor. It’s where English gets words like ‘use’, ‘utility’, ‘utilise’ and others. The overwhelming metaphor underlying the word ‘abuse’ is that you are treating a person like a thing, and you are consuming them utterly in the process.

But what does isiZulu have to say about it?

No matter which word you’re using, if it’s sexual abuse to which you’re referring then you usually include the word ‘ucansi‘ in one form or another. The word ucansi literally means ‘a sleeping mat‘, but it is the most acceptable euphemism for ‘sex‘.

So, let’s start with the most common word: nukubeza. It’s a verb (as these all are), and has the literally meaning of:

1. make dirty, make unclean, soil; 2. slander; 3. half-cook food

It’s related to the ideophone núku, denoting:

1. disorder, dishevelled state, dirtiness, untidiness, slovenliness or ‘a wild, bedecked appearance’

2. lack of adhesion

The related words all relate to the idea that the thing is dishevelled or half-cooked, as someone might be following a rape or other act of sexual abuse. But the connotations of the word are (as these all are) quite disturbing – especially the one of ‘half-cooked food’. As with the Latin word, the idea of consuming is associated with abusing. {by the way, this word is not listed in the latest scholar’s isiZulu dictionary from Oxford}

Another verb for abuse is hlukumeza. It is derived from the ideophone hlúku (denoting shaking) and means:

1. Push, jolt; give a staggering push to someone; shake

2. Give a shock to someone; offend them; irritate or anger them.

The physical violence of an act of sexual abuse or rape is very apparent in this one, although there is still no mention of any physical sexual act. As with most languages, euphemism works hardest around sexual topics.

The most generic word for abuse relates to the verb ona. It is the root of an essential isiZulu concept relating to the physically visible despoliation.

{incidentally, there are very few verb or noun iziqu that begin with vowels, and even fewer that begin with the vowel o-; some of them are quite common, though – such as azi, enza, and a host of verbs with an archaic applied-type prefix like ahlula, elapha and oma]

ONA is from the Ur-Bantu root ‘γona’ denoting the same concept. It has 4 meanings:

1. Spoil, injure, damage, soil

2. Do wrong, sin; commit a crime

3. Seduce, corrupt, ravish; “make a virgin pregnant illegally”

4. Trespass

No example sentences are given for the verb, in Vilakazi and Doke (1958). Mbatha (2007) gives exactly the same defintion, just ngesiZulu. He does, however, add in three example sentences:

1. Abonile kumele bajeziswe – Those who have sinned should be punished

2. Ingozi esayibona ngoLwesine yalona usuku lwethu – The accident which we saw on Thursday ruined our day

3. Uhlawuliselwe ukona intombazane yakwaZunguHe was fined for ilegally impregnating a girl from the Zungu household

This word links to a word so common that even first time students in my classes (who are at that point incapable of greeting someone ngesiZulu) are aware of it – umona.

Umona is so much more than simple avarice, or base greed. It is a concept which encompasses covetousness and desire, but which also implies that ‘umona usuka esweni‘ – ‘jealousy comes from the eye‘ / ‘seeing is wanting‘. Vilakazi and Doke describe it as “jealous displeasure“. What you’re saying when you say ‘jealous down’ ends up meaning ‘I can see where this is ending up and I’ll have no part in it’.

So why isn’t ONA the verb at the heart of the modern isiZulu verb for ‘abuse’? It seems perfectly suited. In 1958 it even had religion to back it up, since isono is ‘a sin‘, as in the ritual words of the Agnus Dei:

Mvana kaNkulunkulu, osusa izono zomhlaba, sihawukele / Mvana kaNkulunkulu, osusa izono zomhlaba, sihawukele / Mvana kaNkulunkulu, osusa izono zomhlaba, siphe ukuthula

But perhaps it was this religious or spiritual connotation that did it in? Perhaps it’s too metaphorical for the current legalisation of isiZulu.

Think about it though – how specific are nukubeza and hlukumeza? Even with the added reference to ‘sex’, do they describe more accurately (but perhaps less forensically?) what happens:

ukunukubeza kocansithe sexual dishevelling/soiling/half-cooking

ukuhlukumeza kocansi the sexual jolting/shaking/shocking

Just writing those two things gives me the chills. The description is so visceral and accurate in its painting of the act of abuse.

If you can stomach more, I still have to lead you into the alleys recently explored by News24 ngesiZulu, and brought to my attention kuTwitha – potoza and cubhacubha.

{end of Pt 1 – Pt 2 on its way once I’ve recovered}