Discrimination, segregation, Apartheid, xenophobia, prejudice, bias, racism, sexism, ageism, exclusion, stereotyping, profiling – this is a set of words tainted by many different instances of humanity’s only basic commonality, the urge to identify the other and be as horrible as one can possibly be towards him or her. Each of these words has a long history, with all of them going back to Latin and Greek in their etymology. That is the origin of their air of science – English-speakers perceive Latinate or Hellenic words as being somehow more authoritative, indicative of both a higher register and an elevated social class.
But it’s all just smoke and mirrors. They all mean this: irrational hatred and fear and disrespect of the other.
Somehow what comes to mind Catullus 85:
odi et amo – quare id faciam, fortasse requiris
I hate and I love – how do I do this, perhaps you ask
nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.
I don’t know, but I am beginning to feel it, and I am in torture
Yet even that lofty sentiment doesn’t show the truth. The truth is that we know why we act this way – we are negative towards the other because they are not us.
NgesiZulu, there is an equally wide range of different words to denote these things. Some of the words have the same stench as the English words, and some of them don’t. As is always the case with isiZulu, there are a number of different meanings for any given word – and these give some insight into the metaphors being deployed to describe the concept.
The first word in this exploration of human hatred of the other is one whose stench still pervades much of public discourse ngesiZulu here eNingizimu Afrika – ukubandlulula. It is derived from an isenzukuthi (a sound-effect or ideophone) – bándlu, denoting the action of separating, rejecting or differentiating. Here’s what the verb means:
1. disown entirely, cast off altogether
2. suspend from membership
3. discriminate, show partiality
In the Isichazimazwi sanamuhla nangomuso of Solwazi Nyembezi, the definition is deceptively simple:
ukungaphathi ngokufana, ukungakhombisi umoya ofanayo kubo bonke
not to treat in the same manner, not to show the same umoya to all people
The most famous derivative of this verb is u(lu)Bandlululo, Apartheid – the complex fluid thing involving the casting off, suspension from membership and discrimination against abantu abansundu here in Mzansi. Nyembezi has this gem to add to the idea of ubandlululo:
…yisenzo sokukhetha iphela emasini
…it is the act of picking a cockroach out of amasi
I’d say that’s one of the most graphic description of the perception of segregation I have ever heard. And yet this word doesn’t only mean Apartheid. It is used in a wider sense to denote any kind of discrimination, although as I said earlier it still carries iphunga of Apartheid.
So what other words are there ngesiZulu to denote this action, without the taint of Apartheid? There are three related words, ranging in difficulty of pronunciation and nuance of meaning. Here’s the first one, with its clearly visible base-metaphors:
1. smash, break to bits (specifically used of something hard being smashed)
2. eat amasi plain, without mixing in any crushed mealies
3. eat or harvest green mealies before they have hardened
4. differentiate against, avoid, exclude
Where the word ‘prejudice’ has the idea of judging someone before (pre-) you know them more deeply, isiZulu denotes this with the idea of eating something without waiting until it is more fully able to be eaten. So every time you differentiate against someone, you are eating them without waiting for them to be fully ripe or properly mixed into a more nutritious entity. You’re also, incidentally, smashing something solid to pieces.
There are two related verbs which abandon the first three meanings and focus only on the third. These two are used more nowadays, with various izimpambosi (see here to find out what these are) to inflect the meaning. Here they are:
cwasa / xwasa
1. exclude from any right, privilege or advantage
2. differentiate against, dislike
As you can see, they keep none of the metaphor and focus only on the basic idea – exclusion and dislike. It is possible that cwasa, at least, is derived from an isihlonipho for the verb ukulwa (to fight). That would make this verb mean ’cause enmity’, which is pretty accurate.
NgesiZulu, you use these basic verbs with some adverbial additives to encompass the full nuance of all those Latinate and Hellenic words from the beginning of this article:
ukucwasa ngokwebala – discrimination according to colour (racism)
ukucwasa ngokobulili – discrimination according to gender (sexism)
ukucwasa ngobuzwe – discrimination according to nationality (xenophobia)
ukucwasa ngobudala – discrimination according to age (ageism)
ukucwasa ngokolimi – discrimination according to language
ukucwasa ngokwenkolo – discrimination according to belief
So these are the basic ideas behind humanity’s hatred for the other. And yet it still feels too clinical. None of these words contains the ubulwane (brutality) and inzondo (hatred) that rear their ugly heads in the looting of shops owned by those from other countries, the destruction of monuments to horses, the pouring of excrement on the precious things of the other, the beheading of members of another religion or the use of hate-filled words to incite violence. Writing these things down leaves a bad taste in my mouth. And it is cold comfort that the oldest source for isiZulu I have, Vilakazi and Doke’s isiZulu-English Dictionary (1958), has this example sentence under the entry for the verb cwasa:
Kujwayelekile ukuba izizwe zicwase ezinye
It is usual for nations to differentiate against foreigners.