The politics of the VUVUZELA: the tough questions of an African World Cup

by Siphokazi Magadla
The 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa which started on 14 June, and ended yesterday with the victory by Brazil over the United States, offered a critical glimpse into South Africa’s readiness to host soccer’s biggest tournament, the 2010 World Cup. More importantly, it can be assumed that for the rest of the world this Confederations Cup has offered a small taste of how the soccer World Cup will potentially feel and sound like when played in the African continent. The Confederations cup makes it more relevant to ask the vital questions: what does it mean to have the World Cup in Africa? What are some of the characteristics that should be expected of this World Cup since it carries a unique African identity? Perhaps the most difficult question to ask is this: how should Africans use this forum provided by this soccer World Cup to re-negotiate their African identity in all its multifaceted terms, the political, the socio-cultural and the economic?
One can safely argue that for South Africans and the 2010 organizing team, their biggest worries regarding their readiness for next year’s World Cup includes the capacity and safety of the stadiums, safety of supporters in the country especially because of the country’s battle with crime and so on. However, that has not been the case as complaints about a little plastic trumpet fondly known by many South Africans, as the Vuvuzela, has been the main source of tension. The Vuvuzela is an instrument fans blow at matches in South Africa as a show of support. The trouble with this trumpet began when several European television stations launched a complaint to FIFA that this instrument is disruptive as it drowns out commentary because of the noise levels. These stations brought this issue to FIFA’s attention calling for the ban of the Vuvuzela from next year’s World Cup. FIFA President Sepp Blatter responded by stating that 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.” The Observer- Dispatch quoted Blatter stating that “we should not try to Europeanize an African World Cup.” Consequently these complaints have given rise to petitions from several social network groups protesting the banning of the vuvuzela. Indeed the Vuvuzela has made it even more relevant to ask the most fundamental question raised above i.e. what does it mean to have the World Cup played on African soil?
Although there are some fans globally who agree that the sound of the Vuvuzela might be a bit noisy, it is unmistakable that many see this as an attack on African values and lifestyle as noisy compared to that of Africa’s former colonial masters, Europe. Commenting on the BBC article In defence of the vuvuzela, Tunde in the United Kingdom angrily states that the “choice between rich, vibrant African sounds (vuvuzela), and vulgar songs that we hear across the terraces of Europe (racist chants) is an easy one. Once these hypocrites can deal with the monkey chants in their own back garden, then; and only then, should they consider stymieing the expressions of joy and camaraderie that they see on our African lawns.” Indeed many fans, several from African countries have professed their irritation with the Vuvuzela, while many are protesting that this is the time that the world should do as the Romans do, or rather, do as the Africans do.
This incident as well demonstrates the need for Africans to have a dialogue about how we as Africans see ourselves and how we would like the world to see us. It is because of such incidents that demand self-reflection from Africans. What do Africans do? Is next year’s World Cup an African World Cup or purely a South African World Cup? What has South Africa done to ensure that this World Cup represents a historic moment not only for South Africans but for Africans at large? South African leaders need to use this platform to talk with other Africans about the political, socio-cultural and economic needs of African people which do cut across the whole continent despite of the rich diversity. It is important to remind the world that the ‘South African miracle’ of the end of Apartheid and the blossoming of South Africa’s democracy is by all means an African ‘miracle’. It is important that South Africa makes it known that her readiness to host the World Cup, is also a representation of Africa’s political, social, cultural and economic readiness to confront global challenges. South Africa’s assessment of hosting the World Cup should rest on the country’s ability to engage the struggling communities of the Southern African community, Zimbabwe being the one in most need for a helping hand. The political implications of the upcoming World Cup should not be underscored, the uncomfortable questions must be asked of South Africa now and of African leaders before this opportunity comes and passes while the lives of African people remain destitute. The challenge rests on us Africans and our ability to seize this opportunity and for the South Africans to engage the continent.

3 Responses to The politics of the VUVUZELA: the tough questions of an African World Cup

  1. Great post…indeed "This is Africa" people will have to learn about the rich rhythms, music, dance and drums from the continent and then adapt.

  2. Without a doubt, South Africa and South Africans have used the 2009 Confederations Cup to show their readiness to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Sepp Blatter gave South Africa 7.5 out of 10 for overall readiness. It's a remarkable achievement.

    With regards to the vuvuzela debate, I can only comment in my private capacity. Having been at local as well as European football games, I can say that having the person behind you blow a vuvuzela in your ear isnt overly jouyous. I also find that chants, as at European games, show more support as they are team-specific rather than being generic.

    But this must in no way be taken out of context. Having said the above, football is by all means a game of tradition. For Europe this means chants, and for South Africa this means vuvuzelas. And this is only a fraction of the culture that South Africans attach to football. Sepp Blatter summed it up well, as you quoted above, "the Vuvuzela is a 'local sound and I don't know how it is possible to stop it … it's energy, rhythm, music, dance, drums. This is Africa.'" And soon, teh world will see how South Africans celebrate the beautiful game… its gonna be awesome!

  3. All I can say is: they shouldn't ban the VUVUZELA's……I can't imagine having a soccer game in South Africa without a Vuvuzela? This has become more like a "norm" and so if it is banned, I forsee trouble. They should learn to adapt to the way we do things in Africa.
    Vuvuzela's help the boys to outdo themselves. Look at what the S.A. team did? They were playing nice carpet and entertaining football in thier last games. The Vuvuzela contributed to this.

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