World Cup Mania: Beyond the vuvuzela

By Duane Jethro Since the conclusion of the World Cup, questions have been raised about what could be done with the vuvuzelas accumulated during the tournament. In response, the renowned South African cartoonist Zapiro offered a few creative, novel suggestions in one of his weekly sketches for the Sunday Times. These included deafened fans using their vuvuzelas as a hearing aid, following Paris Hilton’s lead and using it as a cannabis pipe, or as the case may be with recently sacked coach Raymond Domenech, using it as a receptacle for collecting change from the public while begging on the street.

Just as the vuvuzela’s uses as a material object were open to a multiplicity of reinterpretations, the horn has also lent itself to myriad symbolic readings that connected it to notions of culture, religion and social identities. In that case, we could perhaps find another, alternate use for the vuvuzela, using it telescopically to look back and scan the uproarious terrain of the World Cup and canvass some of the things that had been overlooked and not really heard.

For example, during the tournament you would not have heard the passionate cajoling and encouragement of parents and coaches as they cheered on their football playing kids at William Herbert Sports Ground, in Cape Town. From May through September, hundreds of young amateur football players congregated here on Saturday mornings to compete in league and cup matches. Strikingly, the sporting atmosphere lacked the shocking bray of vuvuzelas and the bright egregious accoutrements associated with South African fan culture. While these things added colour to the spectacle outside, as many parents regularly affirmed, they were not part of the fan culture here. They supported their kids by being present, and encouraging them vocally, and sometimes very animatedly, from the sidelines.

While this was the World Cup, there was no sign that the ground or any of the clubs had benefited from the competition going outside its bounds. I broached the subject with one finger-wielding coach. His response: “I am not a racist or anything, but it’s only the black kids that benefit. These kids have been marginalised…the coloured people…I mean just look at the Bafana Bafana squad, all the players were from up North. That tells you something.” It appeared utterances of this ilk, ordinarily unhearable, rang loud and clear when the vuvuzelas were out of sight.

Beyond the sports ground’s desolate soundscape, what could clearly be heard was that Africa was united around the World Cup. Pan-Africanism was one of the fundamental premises of the tournament, bearing itself out in the official slogan, Ke Nako, Celebrate Africa’s Humanity, marketing campaigns, and championed by government officials. Following Bafana Bafana’s untimely first round exit, South Africans switched allegiances to whichever African team participated at the time. With Ghana’s continued success through the knock-out stages, it seemed as if the entire continent stood behind the Black Stars, easily trading national allegiance for continental solidarity.

While the beer flowed and vuvuzelas were being blown in support of the Ghanian team’s strident progress, in black townships across South Africa foreign nationals from various parts of Africa gazed at their television sets in fear, having been issued with a blanket warning that the terminus of the tournament would mark the outbreak of xenophobic violence. On Sunday 13 July, whilst almost 500 million viewers from across the globe tuned in to watch the hard-fought World Cup final, foreign nationals were hastily packing their things and fleeing their township residencies.

The din of Soccer City’s cacophonous vuvuzelas had virtually drowned out the fearful protests lodged by members of this African exodus. As media attention about the situation began to mount, state officials claimed to have heard of no credible shred of evidence supporting what they argued were mere rumours. Arguably, the veracity that lay at the heart of the hushed gossip, hear-say and skinner circulating within South Africa’s townships resonated at a wavelength that was seemingly inaudible to those perched at the highest echelons of government. The state’s response to the volley of public outcry about the looming unrest therefore lent credence to Premesh Lalu’s most recent claim that “noise engulfs truth.” Then again, these were but a few of the many disquieting things we did not seem to notice during the wild festivity that so powerfully swept the world off its feet.

Duane Jethro

Duane Jethro is a PhD Student at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology of VU University Amsterdam. His research focuses on post-apartheid cultural heritage initiatives and takes place as part of the NWO project Heritage Dynamics. He is currently conducting fieldwork in South Africa and wrote a number of reports about the World Cup for Standplaats Wereld.

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