umbhikisho / protest

I just read that the SABC will no longer show footage of violent protests. I almost have no words. I understand that there might be issues around showing violence in general, but there is also the imperative to report accurately on what is happening in South Africa every day.

It happens in many many parts of the country – so many that on some days the people I work with can’t even get to the schools they’re working in, as a result of roads being blocked and black plumes rising into the air – and it happens every day, and has been happening every day for years.


It’s in the simple solid noun class, along with the words for noise (umsindo), fire (umlilo) and spirit (umoya). It is a basic element, and has the same shape every time it is repeated. The plural is imibhikisho. This word and its root-verb do not appear in Doke’s dictionary of 1958 – which is in itself historically interesting. Both do occur in Mbatha (2010), as one would expect:

ukubhikisha (isenzo) [-el-; -is-; -w-] – ukwenza isenzo esikhombisa ukungeneliswa okuthile. Abasebenzi kade bebhikisha befuna ukukhushulelwa amaholo.

ukubhikisha (verb) [applied; causative; passive] – to do a deed which shows dissatisfaction with something. The workers were protesting for a long time, wanting an increase in their pay.


umbhikisho (ibizo) – isenzo esikhombisa ukungeneliswa okuthile.

umbhikisho (noun) – a deed which shows dissatisfaction with something.

I think that, if you cast your eyes over those definitions, you will see why this is the word used when talking about protest, at least when speaking directly. It’s frequently paired up with descriptive phrases:

umbhikisho onodlame – a violent protest

umbhikisho wabafundi basenyuvesi – a university students’ protest

umbhikisho wezidingongqangi – a basic-service-delivery protest

It’s also used as a verb-phrase:

abafundi basenyuvesi babhikishela imfundo yamahhala – the university students are protesting for free education

amalungu omphakathi ayabhikisha – the community members are protesting.

But, as I’m sure you’ve realised, isiZulu is rather fond of both euphemism and idiomatic expression. Let’s start hysteron proteron – idiomatic expression. The main one here is ukuvuka umbhejazane – literally “to awaken a tendency to vicious inclination”. Let’s unpack:

ukuvuka: as seen in Treason Season, the word has 5 different non-idiomatic meanings. Briefly: wake up, awake from sleep; be resurrected; get up, rise; blow vigorously like the wind, rage like a storm, get into a rage or temper; attack something continually.

umbhejazane: a tendency to evil, passion, or vicious inclination (compare with ugovana)

The word umbhejazane in the idiom is probably being used adverbially, as ukuvuka is usually intransitive. For the transitive version (wake something up), isiZulu uses ukuvusa. What that means is that the community is the thing doing the ukuvuka, and the character of that action is umbhejazane. In terms of the origin of the word, it seems to come originally from one of my favourite izenzukuthi – bhee (9-9), which is the sound:

of flaring up of fire, of roaring of fire in grass; of raging temper; of the spreading of an epidemic; of the burning sensation of condiments in the mouth.

It is linked to many different nouns and verbs, and one in particular has several nouns in different izigaba which are very like umbhejazane –

isibhekazane: a raging, impetuous activity (as of a raging epidemic of disease or passion), a wild uncontrollable mental impulse to evil. uvuke isibhekazane sokweba = he is overcome with an uncontrollable impulse for stealing.

u(lu)bhekazane: an ungovernable impulse to evil

umbhekazane: an ungovernable impulse to evil.

So, overall, when someone uses the phrase “ukuvuka umbhejazane”, the images of ungovernable fires spreading across SA’s communities is not far off the idiomatic expression.

Which brings us to the euphemism, apropos of the SABC’s decision. You see, there are some ways in which it is impossible NOT to report on protests in South Africa – particularly when it comes to traffic. In the days when I still used to listen to uKhozi FM, I particularly liked the traffic reports (closely followed by the weather, in terms of linguistic interest), as they were full of idiom and euphemism and proverbs. These I will deal with in another post, but for now let’s look at how the SABC’s traffic reports used to refer to protests:

ngaseMbumbulu, kunesimo semfuno lapho – hlab’udlule njengenalidi.

near Mbumbulu, there is a situation of need there – stab and pass through it like a needle.

You see, even though the newsreader didn’t (or was ordered not to) say the word for protest, whether directly or idiomatically, they still managed it – isimo semfuno.

isimo: a form, shape, nature, character, situation.

imfuno: {not in Vilakazi 1958} the seasonal thing which is desired or wanted or looked for or needed.

Which ends up meaning something like “there are people burning tyres (and other, more permanent things), blocking roads, stoning cars and generally behaving in an ungovernable fashion as a result of the fact that what they want is not being given to them”.

And that pretty accurately describes SA’s culture of protest.

So, SABC, rather than adopting the “I’m not going to give these attention-seekers any airplay” approach, perhaps consider that NOT broadcasting the protests is an undemocratic act. That accountability to ALL of South Africa’s citizens, including those who are violently and openly dissatisfied with the government, is a basic principle of a national broadcaster.

You, and the president who has you on a short leash, are deaf to the cries of the citizens who put you in power. And the protests will get louder and louder until you can hear them clearly.



I’m tired of the term ‘load-shedding’. In isiZulu, it’s borrowed wholesale: i-load-shedding. That makes me like it even less.

It’s a euphemism, which is one figure of speech governments use with amazing liberty in order to fudge their errors and make their distasteful utterances slightly more palatable.

They are called blackouts. Entire neighbourhoods have their power shut off for hours at a time, offering izinyoka every opportunity to steal some copper risk-free. A high altitude vantage-point would be great – like watching whole swathes of neurons in a dying brain, going out in clumps.

The fact that the blackouts are caused to occur in order to “shed the load” on our struggling electricity grid is actually irrelevant, other than that it means the blackout is done on purpose. It means there’s somebody flicking switches somewhere, choosing which neurons die.

What brought me to this conclusion? Standing in a large wholesale shop on the East Rand (you know who you are), I noticed a slight flicker to the lights, and a slight addition to the overall reverberation of noise. Hm, I thought, at least they have generators. This feeling of relief was soon replaced by one of inexplicable frustration upon finding that my entire trolley-load had to be abandoned, as none of the card systems were working.

On my way out, channeling my anger with some Arctic Monkeys, I remembered that there is an isiZulu word for a blackout. It comes from the Second World War, so don’t be surprised if nobody under 70 knows the word.

umnyamangabomu. a-darkness-on-purpose.

D(l)wengula – Taxonomies of Abuse (Pt 2)

If you’re still willing to read more, there are three more branches to the isiZulu concept of ‘abuse’ (and possibly many more undocumented or as yet unfound, seeing as how abuse combines so many taboos, therefore having so much euphemism associated with it):

potoza, cubhacubha & d(l)wengula

Firstly, potoza. It has only one meaning: “press in; feel a soft object”. For this word, V&D (1958) have an example sentence:

Ubopotoza amapetshisi nxa uwezwa ukuthi avuthiwe yini

You must feel the peaches to tell whether they are ripe or not.

Now, bearing this sentence in mind, here’s the headline from yesterday’s News 24 ngesiZulu article:

Baxoshiwe abebepotoza abafundi

they-have-been-dismissed / those-who-were-feeling-their-soft-things / the-learners-as-object

They were fired for molesting learners

The article doesn’t use the strange verb anywhere else – only in the headline. Elsewhere in the article, the more usual hlukumeza is the preferred verb, as well as the taxonomically different ‘d(l)wengula’ (which I’ll get to by the end of this blog post).

Why would you choose the verb potoza? I’m curious. Was it for visual-cortex impact? Were you wanting to evoke the lusciousness of peaches (or figs?) in your headline to hook us?

ikhiwane elihle ligcwala impethu

the beautiful fig fills up with maggots

You succeeded. I’m getting the picture now.

Moving on from that imagery, I disappear into the calm of Nyembezi’s isichazimazwi sanamuhla (1990), and find that potoza has evolved over the 30 years into something less to do with real fruit and more to do with the forbidden variety:

1. cindezela ngesandla into ethambile (njengesithelo nje) – press a soft thing with the hand (such as a fruit)

2. cubhacubha umuntu wesifazane wena ungowesilisa – cubhacubha a female person, you being a male

Hm. I’ve never seen the word cubhacubha before, but I’m now getting aural imagery. I search some more and find that Nyembezi doesn’t have an entry under ‘cubhacubha‘. There is a related word, possibly with the same stem:

incubuncubu – into ethambe kakhulu, inuthunuthu < a very soft thing, softly-well-cooked food / a soft kaross

I think that is quite possibly the first positive image in the last 1000 words I’ve typed. And then I see the verb cubhaza, and the sun goes back behind the clouds:

1. shiya amabala okungcola – leave behind dirty marks

2. dlala ngokudla njengokwenza kwengane ikhetha ekuthandayo kuphela – play with food the way a child does when it chooses only the food that it prefers

Yoh. Visual and Aural imagery all at once. cubhacubha then, according to standard rule of isiZulu linguistics, denotes that the diminutive form of the verb, saying that the people who were fired had only ‘played with their food’ a little bit, along with ‘pressing their soft bits’.

So, leaving behind those words, we’re on to the next. And it’s about as common as nukubeza and hlukumeza. You will, sadly, hear it at least once a day on uKhozi FM and read it three or four times in each Isolezwe – d(l)wengula.

Of course, there’s a reason why that L is in brackets – V&D (1958) don’t have any reference to ‘dlwengula‘, but rather reference ‘dwengula‘. I have a theory about why the L was added, which I’ll get to in a moment. Firstly, dwengula means:

1. Tear, rend (as cloth); plough through a large piece of ground

2. Walk a great distance; tour

3. Talk aimlessly, talk off the point

None of these definitions, except possible the first one through specification using a word like ngokocansi (sexually), actually means ‘rape’. So I keep looking, and I find dlwanguza. It means:

Act or speak in a wild, savage manner; be of violent temper.

Now that’s a bit more specific. And so my theory is that dlwengula was developed as a combination of two concepts (possibly both related to an association of the DL sound with rending, tearing, ripping and eating):

[dwengulatearing through / ploughing] + [dlwanguzaacting violently] = [dlwengularaping]

This change occurred in the space of 30 years, because Nyembezi (1990) contains the modern concept:

dlwengula (isenzo) – gcweleza umuntu wesifazane ngempoqo, lala nowesifazane ngokumpoqa, limaza, gunya

rape (verb) – assault/maraud/plunder a female person by force, sleep with a female by forcing her, injure, overpower

And so we have reached the end of the taxonomies of abuse (for now). Please alight from the train at this station, unless you prefer to continue thinking along its current trajectory (passing through Guantanamo, Amstetten, Auschwitz & Tongaat). Change here for happier blogs and the sunshine outside.

“They have kids to get lumbar-money”

Headline from pg 6 of today’s Isolezwe Newspaper:

Bazalela ukuthola imali yeqolo: ucwaningo

Translated, this means:

They have kids to get welfare money: research

Now, apart from the obviousness of this headline, there’s an interesting bit of linguistics, and specifically metonymy.

iqolo is ‘the small of the back; the lumbar region’ – so imali yeqolo is small-of-the-back’s money (or lumbar money). It is so called because it is money paid when one is injured, or otherwise cannot work.

‘Lumbar-money’ or imali yeqolo is another way of describing umhlalaphansi (both retirement/pension as well as ‘welfare’ – literally ‘the-sitting-down-thing’).

Umhlalaphansi is also, naturally, a euphemism for loafing orĀ  lounging about, and a word for a string-trap (since it sits flat).