The vuvuzela: I'm glad to sound a salute to a South African symbol

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Love them or hate them, vuvuzelas have been the big story of the World Cup so far. Football fan and Edinburgh University researcher Marc Fletcher , who is based in Johannesburg, says it is time critics put a sock in it and realise the plastic horn's sound

I BOUGHT my first vuvuzela at an Orlando Pirates match in Johannesburg back in March 2008. Foolishly, I took a large breath and just blew into the plastic horn. Nothing happened. Sheepishly I asked people nearby how it was done. Yet while I was having fun mastering the instrument over the course of that year, South African football was frustrating too.

Having being raised in a confrontational football culture where the expectation was to shout abuse at the opposition and officials, the carnival atmosphere of the South African game was alien. I was the only one in the stadium who was "politely telling" the referee that he was a w****r and questioning the parentage of the linesman. Fans stared at me in bemusement.

The culture of football support in South Africa with its dancing, quirky costumes and vibrant colours is strikingly different to what we are used to and the vuvuzela is part of this culture.

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What you do not hear on television is the myriad of rhythms that are played throughout the game in a call and answer style. When a goal is scored, the sound of vuvuzelas in their thousands can be exhilarating, as when Siphiwe Tshabalala scored the opening goal of the World Cup for South Africa. The sight of numerous vuvuzelas in their bright colours being waved in unison in the stands is a spectacle that has no comparison at home.

The best atmosphere I've experienced at a football match wasn't the last time I went to Old Trafford but Pirates v Kaizer Chiefs last year with its 50,000 horns. Of course the vuvuzela is not perfect. It can be extremely annoying when one is being blown in your ear by some drunken guy behind you but who are we to call for a ban?

Listening to the radio and reading the papers here in Johannesburg, many see the complaints of the vuvuzela as European arrogance. People may not like the South African vuvuzela but South Africans would counter that there are far more unsavoury aspects of European football that need to be dealt with first and they're right. Is the vuvuzela really more offensive to our ears than the racist and bigoted chants that a section of British football supporters utter?

Research indicates that the vuvuzela can be detrimental to our health but then so are the fat-laden, salt-loaded pies of questionable meat content and the numerous pints of beer that are sold at football games every week in the UK. Critics of the vuvuzela lament the lack of songs sung by the fans yet they are assuming that singing and chanting is superior. Even though I'm English, I found the chant of "Come on England!" at the recent England v USA game monotonous. Worse still were the mindless chants of "U-S-A" from the American contingent. If we stop and think about it, are chants of "ING-ER-LUND" really any better than blasts from a vuvuzela? I think not.

Rarely do I find myself agreeing with Fifa President Sepp Blatter but his recent comment that "Africa has a different rhythm, a different sound" is spot on. We have to accept that different cultures of football support do not always fit with our own.

Banning the vuvuzela would also contribute to the bland, corporate sterilisation of the World Cup. Already, the matchday experience has lost much of its local flavour. Vendors usually found at domestic games selling a variety of food such as spiced chicken, steak and boerewors (like sausage only much bigger, juicier and tastier) are prohibited in the vicinity of the stadium, replaced by tasteless hotdogs and burgers. Local beer is shunned in favour of a well-known American brand and most of the advertising boards display the logos of multinational corporations.

When South Africa won the bid to host the tournament, we were promised a South African World Cup. Taking away the vuvuzela would strip yet another layer from its endangered identity.

I am not about to advocate the use of the vuvuzela at games at home. As much as I enjoy playing the vuvuzela at South African games, I don't believe that it would fit in with how people support their team at the match. Worse, thousands of vuvuzelas in the hands of confrontational supporters could be used as weapons; 15,000 vuvuzelas at the Edinburgh derby would be asking for trouble. While I'm going to be bringing my vuvuzela home, it's not going to be coming with me to any game.

I feel that the vuvuzela "problem" has been blown out of all proportion. Contrary to what some may argue, I find the commentary is perfectly audible above the sound of the vuvuzela. Accept it for what it is: something different. If you still hate the vuvuzela, the World Cup ends on 11 July. You can have your peace and quiet back then.

Marc Fletcher is a PhD student in the Centre of African Studies at the University of Edinburgh. His research focuses on race, national identity and football supporters in Johannesburg, South Africa. For all his sins, he is an avid follower of Tiverton Town, his local non-league team languishing in the English Southern Premier League.

• The Zulu Lounge cafe in Morningside Road has been doing a roaring trade in vuvuzelas, selling more than 200 since the World Cup kicked off.

Kim Wedge, who owns the cafe along with her brother, Christopher, decided to import the horns from her homeland before the furore over complaints erupted. Ms Wedge, who lived in Cape Town before coming to Scotland nearly ten years ago, said she had only around 50 left.

"It's been mostly children buying them but also tourists and Scottish football fans," she said. "A few people have said they are buying them to annoy someone else!"