Vuvuzelas, a true story

I was not going to write about this. As you can tell from this site there are so many more pertinent issues. The Tea Party takeover in the US and what it will mean for all of us. The continued prejudice heaped upon Homosexuals throughout Africa. Our own continuing woes regarding crime. I would be the first to argue that my topic is perhaps not the most pertinent issue to South Africans. But who then would argue the case of our dear Vuvuzela (Herein after at times lovingly referred to as the “Vuvu”)?

“Make a difference not just noise” is the theme of WoZela. An initiative I was made aware of by a an American friend nogal. The idea is really simple: Use your Vuvuzela to make something “useful”. An effort supported by artists,“the win win group” and “Leftfield – Beyond Advertising” Whoever those three are… The links for “Leftfield” and “the win win group” on the Wozela site don’t work. If you google “the win win group” info does come up but the absence of a search bar on their site makes it difficult to discover what the link between them and Wozela is exactly. Don’t even try googling “Leftfield”. And there isn’t so much as a picture of anyone on the Wozela site. Well, except for models donning Vuvuzela earings. Also search all you want, but there is no mention or indication of any kind of who the “local craftsmen” are who will get the proceeds from Vuvu mutilation.

Now let me just say that this is just the final straw.

What I mean is that my contempt of Vuvu naysayers was not sparked by the Wozela site. It is just that of late, being abroad, I have found myself to suddenly be a spokesperson for all things South African. Because “you’re African and from Africa right?”, right? To that end, with the world cup fast approaching, I had done my best to inform and educate about the then still mythical Vuvuzela (and of-course assuring all and sundry of their safety). However after the world cup I found myself constantly needing to come to the defense of the Vuvu. I would say I am from South Africa and every third or fourth person I would meet would look at me as if to say “Where is my apology?”.

Profanity is a regarded as an indication of lower class but sometimes it is merely an accurate response. Now, this is a respectable site comprised of serious discourse but if it were not I would show you why by reiterating my immediate response.
I must say living abroad (yes I do enjoy the odd toot of my own horn, excuse the pun) changes ones’ perspective somewhat on the whole notion of “open mindedness”. Nonetheless I thought, “Foreigners”, they always want to put down what they don’t understand about “us”. Until I realised this was a South African initiative open to the world. Okay.

Whilst it would be hard for anyone not to concede that our dear Vuvu is a tad noisy, to concur based on that alone that it has no use, is to miss a serious point on history and culture. More than that it is an indication of a lack of sensitivity to cultural diversity that cannot so easily be forgiven in South Africa.

The Vuvu has been a part of South African society since time immemorial. It had it’s beginnings as a signal of battle. It’s continued use in matches of rival soccer teams then, is obvious. But even that is an aside. Even without the history lesson the Vuvu has a place in South African life. It has been synonymous with the sport of soccer since the very first local leagues. The sound of soccer in South Africa has been that of cheering and Vuvuzelas since the inception of TV in Mzansi (“South Africa” for the uninformed). I cannot recall a not hearing the sound while watching soccer, ever.

Where was the outcry during the last twenty or so years? During all the other competitions and international friendlies. The English pretend some of their top premier league teams have not played here in front of capacity crowds in the past. Through all that time there was hardly a peep. But now that we have been on the international stage everyone has an opinion. Suddenly Vuvuzelas are “useless”. It’s as if those people had jammed their ears shut to the sound of South Africa for the last twenty odd years. And now that there is a dissenting international opinion in some quarters they seize the an opportunity to trod all over our beloved horn.

It is as South African as “Pap en Vleis” and all these would-be-do-gooders would do well to acknowledge that fact. Even if the world thinks differently because perceptions of Africa are dim at best this is not a fad. This is a part of our history and culture. Like fog horns in the stands watching gridiron. Like clappers in Japan for baseball. Like the host of instruments we hear in South American soccer the Vuvuzela already has a use.

  • Amy

    Personally, I don’t think “being part of our culture” is a good argument for the simple reason that it is not synonymous to “being good”. Take tribal circumcision for example: It is a tradition in certain cultures to circumcise the boys in order to initiate them into manhood. While the concept might be laudable, in practice, it is a dangerous ritual that results in many deaths. Applying this analogy to the topic at hand, just because the vuvu has been around for a couple of decades doesn’t automatically make it good.

    The vuvu gets people in the mood – true. It’s a great crowd stirrer and has become an emblem for South African soccer – also true. However, it is bad in that many people underestimate just how loud the vuvu is. You may not get too many complaints at a local soccer match where there aren’t many spectators blowing the vuvu in the first place; but increase that number to match the ones at the World Cup and all of a sudden the annoyance factor shoots through the roof. Just because there have been relatively few complaints at previous matches doesn’t strip the fans of the right to complain now or in the future, considering how the variables have changed.

    Plus, I’m pretty sure that having someone blow the vuvu right next to your ear for 90 minutes isn’t good for your hearing. And let’s not forget all the germs that get spread around especially during flu season.

  • Mac

    As someone who attended 3 WC matches including a particularly rowdy semi-final involving Ghana and Germany. I cannot say that the vuvu was hugely annoying at all, nor do i think that having somebody blowing the vuvu near you has any lasting or particularly damaging effect on your hearing. Telling SA to get rid of the vuvu has as much credibility as complaining about the noise at a club. If you don’t like it then don’t go to the match. Other football celebrations such as constant singing, airhorns and samba drums are roughly as loud.

    I was also involved with the world cup from a tourism perspective and the foreigners generally liked the vuvu. It became the symbol of the WC in a far bigger way that the mascot Zakumi, and provided a huge amount of souvenir revenue.

    I do think that the ‘part of our culture’ argument holds sway. Amy is right about traditional circumcision but the example is dis-analogous…traditional circumcision has lead to death and serious injury – i don’t think this is the case for vuvu’s. If the person next to you can blow the vuvu for 90min they need a medal. Generally, vuvus are played for a small portion of the match, plus the vuvu is not blown into a person’s ear but rather the sound is directed up in the air or down to the field. The most irritating thing about the vuvuzelas are the way the players use it as an excuse not to hear the whistle….

  • Amy

    I’ve never been to a WC match but I’ve watched a couple on the tellie, and even then, I found the noise to be rather annoying. I suppose the difference is that when you’re at a match, the atmosphere and the people counters the annoying vuvu sounds.

    And on the damage to your hearing, I quickly googled this:

    “The long, plastic, trumpet-shaped vuvuzela was found to emit an ear piercing noise of 127 decibels – louder than a lawnmower (90 decibels) and a chainsaw (100 decibels). Extended exposure at just 85 decibels puts us at a risk of permanent noise induced hearing loss. When subjected to 100 decibels or more, hearing damage can occur in just 15 minutes.”

    It’s not as dire as death, but I think it’s still cause for concern.

  • mac

    Ok the vuvu is noisy, and possibility for hearing damage technically exists but if the level of damage is pegged at 100 decibels every single type of soccer celebration can cause permanent damage. Also the vuvu is about as loud as a night club, but for the sake of our hearing we’re not suggesting doing away with those.

    Actually the TV dynamic you spoke about is interesting, I can see how one would get the wrong impression from watching a match on TV…..the noise seems constant but its not. The TV mic picks up the noise whether it comes from one side of the stadium or the other…in practise nobody actually plays the instrument for longer than a few minutes so your exposure to the sound isn’t that bad.

  • Amy

    Well, thing is, we go to clubs *for* the loud music (and drinks and random hookups and etc.) We go to matches for the soccer, not the vuvu orchestra.

  • I just found your post and I thought I should clarify the project for you.

    We are not trying to eradicate the Vuvuzela, we are trying to come up with ways to deal with all the unwanted ones left in the wake of the world cup. More than 2000 000 were imported from China for the tournament, meaning that there is literally tons of plastic that shouldn’t be in our country. Hence why we (Leftfield – decided to create this initiative.

    We have set up three teams nationally already to produce items and have conducted public collections to get these crafter the raw materials. We are making absolutely no money from the project, and simply wanted to have it as a pilot project/case study for responsible branding exercises. We have handed the ideas over entirely and are not expecting anything back from the craft teams.

    Please send my any comments you may have to the address you supplied.


    WoZela/Leftfield Advertising.

  • Zwelakhe Makgalemele

    Dear Matt (and by extension I am assuming “Wozela”)

    I expected a response to my article to be about how Wozela too values the Vuvuzela. I thought that you might highlight the several lines on your homepage that speak of it as a “symbol of unity”. But instead you chose to support your initiative by pointing out that 2 million vuvuzelas had been imported and something had to be done about the “unwanted ones”.

    Firstly forgive me if your response only makes me more suspicious. My gripe was with your tagline “make a difference not just a noise”. And now, with your other tagline “Make this object of Unity an object of Utility”. Both these suggest that you do perceive the Vuvuzela to be nothing more than a noise making fad that apparently is otherwise of no use. As people involved in advertising I had hoped you could appreciate the power of such a statement.

    So you see, you have done nothing to dissuade me from my opinion.

    Further you have done nothing to convince me of this “environmental point” for the following reasons:

    First, you (Leftfield) are an add agency you are good at promoting and garnering publicity. You are incapable of processing the “literally tons” of plastic you claim need attention.

    Second, you collect “ideas” not actual vuvuzelas and then (I assume based on their viability) will endeavor to create products with your crafters. No one is actually handing you Vuvuzelas just yet otherwise you would have used that statistic instead of the number imported from China. And again, even if your vuvuzela earrings or vuvuzela steering lock turn out to be major successes, I suspect dealing with even 50 000 vuvuzela’s would be considered a raving success. Although it would still only costitute 2.5% of 2 million. Even if you could get a million vuvuzelas “recycled” you wouldn’t put a dent in the hundreds of tons of actual trash that our country has to deal with. For instance did you know the metropolitan area of Durban deals with 1.8million tons of trash a year!

    The last thing I want to say is that this article deals with more than your initiative. If you read it again my only gripe with Wozela is the suggestion that it is nothing but a noisemaker and therefore is of no use. That, I believe, is short sighted and irresponsible. This article is about not just the fact that the Vuvuzela is a symbol of this country but why it has been and will continue to be. Just because the World Cup is over doesn’t mean South African sports culture and history are over. South Africa will continue to play and I will continue to blow my Vuvuzela.

    Zwelakhe Makgalemele

    Ps: There is link in the article to Wozela, I encourage anyone reading this to take a look and decide for yourself.