By Duane Jethro The car company Hyundai has come up with a solution for those whom the expression “Feel It. It Is Here” has no real emotive purchase. In support of their slogan for the World Cup, “We bring the Gees”, the company has erected a 37 metre long vuvuzela on an abandoned flyover in Cape Town’s city centre. To affirm their commitment to pumping up the World Cup spirit, the instrument is not merely a striking piece of visual advertising, but sonically brings the company slogan to life as a fully operational noise making instrument.
Intended to be sounded off every time a goal was scored during the tournament, the giant trumpet’s sonic booms have, however, been curtailed by the city council on the grounds that it would seriously disrupt traffic at the major intersection below. While the project has been a failure in this sense, it has succeeded in promoting the notion of gees and linking it with vuvuzelas.
If in the months leading up to the World Cup South Africans lacked a term to describe the achy, charged sensations evoked by the news of the impending tournament, then Hyundai provided them with a concise, lofty expression describing the religious like atmosphere that was being conjured up. Gees is an Afrikaans word meaning spirit or ghost, and is specifically rooted in Christian religious rhetoric. Through their marketing campaign, Hyundai have therefore attempted to tap into the almost transcendent sentiments associated with the World Cup. At the same time, as far as religion is a cultural phenomenon, the company has also seemed to have spawned an invented tradition.
That said, the emergence of this term can not simply be put down to the heavenly financial gains the Hyundai company would reap from this branding exercise, since religion has been a pervasive feature of this World Cup. Examples abound. Prior to the start of the tournament, FIFA™ was alerted to the widespread use of a combination of traditional pharmacopeia and religious practices that were employed widely across the African continent as a means of improving on field performance. In that instance, FIFA™ lowered their gaze from the heavens and the efficacy of divine influence and focused instead on the as yet unknown potency of potions that formed part of many African football teams’ performance improving regimes.
In another instance, the ground upon which the opening game was to be staged at Soccer City had to be consecrated by members of the Traditional Healers Council, ‘as a means of blessing the stadium as a symbol of welcome to the nations that are coming, and calm the ancestors who may be frightened by the many different languages spoken by foreign fans’. The ritual included the burning of incense and special medicines, and the slaughtering of a cow, since bovine symbolized strength and would aid global camaraderie since the specimen sacrificed in this instance was “a unifying cow”.
Hyundai were onto something when they erected their massive vuvuzela on the unfinished flyover, since there was some truth to the idea that the vuvuzela resonated with real religious power. While the plastics manufacturing company Mascincedane Sports could be credited with popularising the instrument during the 2000’s, it was the Shembe Church that claimed original ownership of the horn. For members of this congregation, their horn, known as the imbomu, has been used in their most sacred religious rituals since 1910. In the wake of the vuvuzela’s increasing popularity, the church came out forcefully against it, protesting not at the fact revenue that was being generated by their sacred horn, but the theft of their religious power. As one member of the Church declared, “when people are playing football and hearing the vuvuzela they are getting the power of our Holy Spirit”. In that sense, while it may not always sound like it, this tournament may certainly be blessed.
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 regularly writes reports about the World Cup for Standplaats Wereld.