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World Cup Mania: what’s the vuvuzela about?

Duane about to blow the vuvuzela

In our new series on the Football World Cup, Duane Jethro will regularly report from South Africa. Duane is currently doing his PhD research in his home-country, looking at cultural heritage initiatives in the post-apartheid era. The World Cup, with its articulations of a (putative) South African authentic culture, has become an important site of Duane’s investigations. In this first part of the series we’ll reproduce Duane’s report on the festivities in the context of the World Cup’s final draw, in which he discusses an object that has recently become somewhat controversial in the Netherlands: the vuvuzela. What does the vuvuzela stand for and where does it come from?

By Duane Jethro The FIFA Fan Fest™, a locally organised public festival celebrating the FIFA 2010 World Cup™ final draw, was the watershed event marking South Africa’s official role as host of the 2010 World Cup tournament. Held in Long Street Cape Town, the magnanimous celebration stretched from the Convention Centre on the east, through the heart of the city to its western boundary. Attended by revellers, officials and, celebrities from across the globe, it represented the first major occasion for the local organising committee and the South African public to welcome the global football loving audience to South Africa. Significantly, amongst many nations represented at the event, there seemed to be a large contingent of Dutch supporters present, celebrating the Netherlands’ berth, and indulging in the general festivities.

Dutch supporters (all pictures by Duane Jethro).

Locally, the World Cup is seen as a momentous event that promises to not only catalyze a veritable fiscal volcanic eruption, but also shower the African continent with the invaluable symbolic capital of international recognition of its football culture. Within the confines of FIFA™’s web of bureaucratic controls, the local organising committee has embarked on a campaign to use the tournament to showcase what South African and African football culture is all about.

A major aspect of this project has been to rouse the South African public into displaying their enthusiasm for the game of football, and their pride in the distinctiveness of South African football culture. If the images of local football supporters in attendance at the FIFA Fan Fest™ are anything to go by, South African football culture is defined by raiment and accessories that serve to accentuate team colours and apparel, and regular bugling on the vuvuzela.

The word vuvuzela is said to derive from the Zulu expression to make a noise, and, as an instrument similar in register to a cow horn is said to be related African traditional herders horns forged from the antlers of wild game. The official history of the use of the vuvuzela at local soccer matches is still unknown, but the first ones are said to have been moulded by the most ardent supporters from tin. The vuvuzela’s widespread popularity and use, however, is a recent phenomenon dating back not much further than the 1990’s.

The dramatic increase in its use is related to the coincidence of the Masincendane Sport company winning a competition to mass produce improved plastic versions of the horn in the early part of the twenty first century, and the drive to promote interest in football and local football culture by the World Cup local organising committee. While the historical authenticity of the horn’s place in South African football culture may be open to question, undoubtedly, in the run up to the tournament the vuvuzela has become the defining feature of what South African football support is about.

It has also become one of the most contested aspects of the looming tournament, with media reports pointing to a chorus of complaints and disapproval from various parts of the globe focussing on how the cacophony of bugling vuvuzela’s negatively impacts on one’s ability to enjoy a football match. My research into the veracity of these claims at the Fan Fest™ seemed to concur with these claims, with foreign visitors unaccustomed to South African football festivities being hesitant and sometimes even averse to the horn.

One European visitor openly exclaimed “no, I hate that thing” when I presented him with the opportunity to ‘give-it-a-go’, but with a little encouragement, however, the gentleman eventually conceded, and seemed to thoroughly enjoy his toot on the horn.

Time and again, this seemed to epitomise the feelings of foreign tourists: the sound may be distasteful, but blowing the vuvuzela is pretty fun. Perhaps post-World Cup we’ll see the vuvuzela becoming a firm feature of global football supporters culture.

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 will regularly write reports about the World Cup for Standplaats Wereld.

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