When I arrived in Stellenbosch to start my first year at university the buzz word was diversity, every speech, campus news article, and many jokes even, was built around the concept of diversity. These words come and go and sometimes they stick for years. Thankfully I hear global warming a bit less often nowadays – probably only until the Mexican leg of the climate conferences in November nears again. But now however, the word buzzing all around the world (of course the pun was intended!) is none other than vuvuzela: a plastic blowing horn used by fans at soccer matches in South Africa. It’s selling like hot cakes in England and Europe, Apple launched an iPhone app mimicking the vuvuzela’s sound which has been downloaded more than 1 million times, I saw a Turkish clip on Youtube about it, and (surprise surprise!) China is cashing in on the whole deal seeing that they produce about 90% of vuvuzela’s sold worldwide. Basically every country following the 2010 FIFA World Cup is discussing it and it’s not because it is embraced globally. France developed frequency separating technology to block out the drone during television broadcasts of soccer games, the original creator of this controversial instrument once again used his entrepreneurial skill and introduced official vuvuzela earplugs to counter the noise, and the funky Boris Johnson, mayor of London, spoke out against it prior to England’s group C match against Algeria in Cape Town, saying it will not be welcome at the London Olympics in 2012. It has also been banned from the 2010 Wimbledon tennis tournament.
Fans of the so called ‘beautiful game’ are upset about the fact that it spoils the atmosphere at games and players and coaches complain that they struggle to communicate on the field. Still, wherever you go in South Africa at the moment everyone has one and they’re constantly blowing it. I doubt any visitor would want to leave back home without purchasing a vuvuzela or at least testing one out a few times. When in Rome, you know? Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA, said that “Africa has a different rhythm, a different sound” and therefore these horns, which represents a part of the South African culture, will not be banned at this year’s World Cup tournament.
People need to make their peace with it: FIFA 2010 will be remembered as the one with the vuvuzelas. As Blatter also mentioned, you don’t just waltz into a country and expect them to change their ways. SE Cupp, a political commentator from the US, also shared her take on the matter and suggested a way to accommodate the culture while dropping the noise. I can’t see it working that easily though. This situation is in some way similar to the Japanese and their whale killing antics. One of the reasons they are reluctant to tone down on their whale hunting is because they see the world’s criticism of their practice as an attack on their culture and therefore they take pride in fighting for their right to hunt whales.
So how do you deal with these things as an outsider? Firstly, ask yourself why it is necessary for them to change their culture and adopt yours. The best way is probably to point out how it is influencing the people in the same culture negatively or even how it is contradicting other aspects of their culture. Or you can live out your cultural ways to the extreme and if they truly seem beneficial to all mankind they will hopefully start adopting them at the cost of their own – look around the globe and see how MTV, for one, was used to poison many cultures. Other than that you’ll have to stay put and possibly get over it in the mean time. I’m South African but not from a soccer supporting background, so the vuvuzela is just as new to me as it is to some foreigners. At the moment I’m loving it because it is a unique thing to display to the world and a touch point for the diverse cultures making up our Rainbow Nation. Its original creator, Neil van Schalkwyk, even calls it South Africa’s 12th official language now, and it’s definitely one we could all understand!
Perhaps I would grow sick of it as well in a few year’s time or regret my support of this beautiful instrument when I realise I’ve lost a significant part of my hearing ability because of it. As an international product it is a fad, at the very least, and will still sell by the thousands in the months to come. Among both traditional and newly converted Bafana fans, it is very unlikely that it will be done away with. I have heard though, that when you go to local club games, you’ll see a much more rhythmic display by the fans. That is what I personally hope to see, that chants and tunes would develop in time and that it will be infused with dancing and singing. Four years from now it is off to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup however, and from what I’ve heard they are not a tranquil bunch themselves either, and have similar blowing instruments, amongst other things. I believe that part of the beauty of the host nation being rotated every four years is that the world could experience each other’s cultures. How boring would it have been if 40,000 Englishmen came to South Africa to see us singing silly songs and then beating each other up afterwards in the parking area? Or if Argentinians flew across the Atlantic only to see us litter the field with a few tons of paper during each match?
Personally, as an “outsider” looking at the game of soccer, I am much more annoyed by the endless display of players faking injuries and the injustice going with it when red cards are dished out or players miss out on their next game because an opponent tripped over his own feet. No wonder the winning team receives a trophy resembling an Oscar at the end of each tournament.