Since I haven’t yet written a proper post about izimpambosi, I must begin this one with an apology – although this will serve as a practical explication of the concept.

Yesterday, I navigated the northern channels of the Jozi vascular system, charting a course once again along roads named after dead white men until I arrived at the school. I had been called to say goodbye, so I was a little apprehensive.

I needn’t have been. It was very touching, and quite emotional, but a necessary act. And on my course south again I meditated on a single word that kept on at me – ukuvalelisana.

The isiqu of the word is VAL, and is one which means:

  1. close, shut
  2. suppress; deceive; bribe; bluff; cheat
  3. protect against evil, using protective charms.

It’s one of the most common verbs in isiZulu, and is usually paired with its antonym, VUL. But in its basic form it has nothing to do with saying goodbye. The remaining part of the word is all about the impambosi.

…except for the first part – the isiqalo UKU-. This shows that this verb is in the Noun Class reserved for actions and states. So saying goodbye is an Action. Duh. It’s also occurring, rather than not – that’s what the -A at the very end is for.

The way that izimpambosi work is that you read them from the outside in. So we’ll start with the -AN- part. It’s called the RECIPROCAL, and denotes a mutuality or reciprocity of action. The action occurred together, or all parties to the action engaged in it mutually.

Next is the -IS- part. This means that whatever occurred mutually was also CAUSATIVEĀ – so the actors mutually caused the action or made it happen. It is normal to affix a causative impambosi to verbs which otherwise do not habitually have objects.

…such as VAL-EL-*. The final impambosi, -EL-, means that the mutually caused action is APPLIED to some place or person or thing. Here’s a list of its meanings:

  1. shut for; suppress for
  2. shut in, imprison, enclose
  3. shut out, exclude
  4. prohibit

So it still has no trace of ‘saying goodbye’, unless in a very negative way. But that is, once again, the beauty of izimpambosi. You see, VAL-EL-IS-* has the following special meanings:

  1. take leave of, bid farewell, say goodbye to
  2. be the last with a dying person

…which is quite poetic, when you think about it. To cause a shutting off for someone is to say goodbye to them, to be there when they close off their stage of life. Deep.

And so, when one adds the reciprocal impambosi (-AN-), this leave-taking becomes mutual or reciprocal.

uku-val-el-is-ana – the mutual action of causing shutting off from each other.

… aka “the act of saying goodbye and ending a chapter in both our lives”.