South Africa: Vuvuzela replaces Bafana Bafana

Reading time 6 min.

The vuvuzela, a South African horn used by football fans, will certainly whip up a big hue and cry come the 2010 World Cup in June. The Japanese team has already expressed its opposition to the use of the instrument. Many were those who threw tantrums over the defeaning vuvuzela sound during the Confederations Cup, last June. Nevertheless, the noisy horn is a matter of national pride, and Sepp Blatter, FIFA president has chosen not to have it banned. Die-hard critics have turned to persiflage indicating that the vuvuzela is South Africa’s only chance to make its presence felt, at a time when Bafana Bafana, the national team, is at its lowest level in the history of South African soccer.

Joseph Blatter, president of the international football governing body, FIFA, has trouble remembering the name… “Buzela the vubizila,” as he stumbled his way through the pronunciation of vuvuzela last June when he spoke about the instrument at a press conference, Buteur reported. Despite the instrument’s apparent importance to Mr. Blatter, the vuvuzela promises to whip up a serious debate at the next World Cup in South Africa. The list of teams qualified for the soccer event which takes place next June and July 2010 is now known. The main event, however, will come in the form of that thin 62 cm plastic air horn.

A harmless vuvuzela? Not when hundreds of disenchanted Bafana Bafana supporters decide to blow the traditionally South African horn together. African Cup of Nations (CAN) followers are much aware of the impact of the brightly coloured and cylindrically shaped air horn, especially when a whole stadium buzzes with the sound of a mix of a billion mosquitoes and dragon flies. There is not a minute’s pause as the sound from the air horns outlives the matches.

A concert of criticisms

The President of the Japanese Football Association (JFA), Motoaki Inukai, reiterated calls for a ban on vuvuzelas after a friendly match between Japan and South Africa, the last weekend. This comes after a debate was launched in the microcosmic football world following the Confederations Cup in June in South Africa. Although the debate failed to attract media attention, most critics believe that it is only a fortaste of the magnitude of the criticisms that are to be expected during the world cup.

Spanish international, Xabi Alonso, last June, spoke against the use of vuvuzelas. “I think they should be banned,” he said in a column that appeared in The Guardian: ” “We’re used to people shouting but not to this trumpet noise which doesn’t allow you to concentrate and is unbearable. They make it very difficult for the players to communicate with each other. They are a distraction and do nothing for the atmosphere.” After their last weekend game, Japanese defence Marcus Tulio Tanaka, agrees with Xabi Alonso. Tulio, according to the BBC, said: “You can’t hear what your team-mates are saying from two metres away. You have to go up to them to give instructions.”

Dutch coach, Bert van Marwijk’s views are in line with the Tulio’s. In an interiew with ESPN, the American Sports channel, he said: “You want to coach your players during the match but it is almost impossible with that noise. So for me the horns can stay outside the stadium.” Several sports journalists and channels have also joined the demonstration against the vuvuzelas saying that the sound is very annoying and uncomfortable especially for television viewers. “At home watching TV it really was annoying, but in the stadiums you get used to it but it is still unpleasant,” Van Marwikj said. The Guardian sports columnist has predicted that “Football fans will be reaching for the mute button if dreaded vuvuzela is allowed in World Cup stadiums next year.”

Pride: Vuvuzela or Bafana Bafana?

Faced with a flood of criticism, FIFA was quick to respond. According to Joseph Blatter “we should not try to Europeanize an African World Cup.” The vuvuzela is a “local sound and I don’t know how it is possible to stop it (…) I always said that when we go to South Africa, it is Africa. It’s not Western Europe. It’s noisy; it’s energy, rhythm, music, dance, drums. This is Africa. We have to adapt a little,” he said. The implications of his statement have not been much discussed.

In fact, the issue of racism has reared its head among some proponents of the instrument at a time when White South Africans are beginning to show some interest in football/soccer (Rugby being a traditional game of choice), and even play the vuvuzela. In a review that appeared in the June issue of the South African newspaper Mail & Guardian, Setumo Stone argues that “we do not blow the vuvuzela because we are Africans. We blow the vuvuzela because we get an adrenalin rush from the creative noise it makes. Also, we get an adrenalin rush because we are human. Not because we are Africans!”

“There is nothing racist about it”, said Lee Smith, a refractory South African vuvuzelu trumpeter who felt compelled to clarify the situation. Talking to France 24, he said: “Some say that White Europeans want to ban it, because they are racist against black South Africans. This is really not true. Most of my black friends cannot stand sound of the vuvuzela.”

South African movie, director Zola Maseko, expressing sarcastic vuvuzela oriented sentiments after the confederations cup, in a column that appeared in the Mail & Guardian, believes that the South African football team is worse than that the Lichtenstein team: “There is a team in Europe from Lichtenstein, a tiny principality with a population of about 32 000. They don’t have a league and always field a team of non-professionals — ordinary men with everyday regular nine to five jobs. They are the whipping boys of European football. Needless to say, they never qualify for anything. We are worse than Lichtenstein…”.

According to Zola Maseko, the country’s unique contribution to the sport would be the vuvuzuela. “But to say we did not feature prominently in this competition [the confederations cup] would be disingenuous. Failing to play any kind of football, we brought along the vuvuzela. This was our only contribution to the wonderful artistic spectacle”.

Zola insists that Joseph “Sepp” Blatter refused to ban the use of this instrument for fear of being labelled racist. Says the Japanese coach, Takeshi Okada: “maybe if they played good football, [the fans] would remain quiet and watch the match.”

Unfortunately, Bafana Bafana has been under a losing spell with disastrous results; the worst ever in the history of the country as indicated by FIFA’s official ranking. Ironically, it is the golden era of the vuvuzela! Long live the vuvuzela!

2010 World Cup  South Africa's preparation to host the games on African soil for the first time but also individual African countries' determination to take part in the historic event. Five African countries - Cameroon, Nigeria, Algeria, South Africa and Ghana - are selected to join twenty seven teams from around the world to battle it out on the football pitch for the gold trophy. One by one, the African teams are eliminated, but Africans will not be bogged down as they rally behind their compatriots on the wings of the vuvuzela, a far cry from the near diplomatic row between Algeria and Egypt during the qualifiers. Ghana are the last team to leave but not before African unity becomes reality...
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