Freddie Maake

Although the exact origins of the vuvuzela remain shrouded in mystery, a local Tembisa man, Freddie “Saddam” Maake, claimed that the instrument seen at matches is modelled on a prototype developed by him in 1965. Moreover, Maake argues, without proper legal backing and necessary resources, his legitimate claim to share in the profits generated by the mass proliferation of the instrument remain unheard.

It is without doubt that if Maake’s story is true, and on face value he does seem to have a very good case, he is truly a victim of exploitation. Maake is an authentic fanatic: this fact is made indubitable by the way that Kaizer Chiefs memorabilia pervades almost every aspect of his Tembisa home, starting at the gate which proudly hangs a Kaizer Chiefs flag. Inside the house, Maake’s living room, in Phathisani Moyo’s words,

…resembles a football museum, dominated by Amakhosi artefacts, which included more than 200 helmets, known as amakaraba, all types of vuvuzelas, flags, scarves, posters and pictures. Even his giant flat-screen television beamed the 1988 Bob Save final between Orlando Pirates and Chiefs.

Surely Maake has a right to be angry considering he played a central role in the rise of the vuvuzela as a symbol of South Africa’s presence on the world stage. Maake can produce photographic evidence of himself holding an aluminium vuvuzela made from the horn of a bicycle from as early as the 1970s.

The history of the Maake-vuvuzela relationship gets even more interesting: this is to say that Maake suffered having his instrument banned from stadiums after officials saw it as a potential weapon (he confesses that he used it as such in scuffles with rival fans), was held in custody after refusing to leave it behind when flying to Zimbabwe in 1992 (after SA was readmitted to international competition), and actually took it with him to France during the 1998 FIFA World Cup. The man has all of this history documented in photographs, and, further, claims to have colluded with Masincedane Plastics in the manufacturing of the vuvuzela out of plastic (thereby diminishing the chances that it could be used as a weapon at football matches).

His primary qualm is that whereas Masincedane Plastics benefitted from selling large amounts of the instrument during the world cup, he was left completely out of the fray.

The story of the plastic vuvuzela started as early as 1989 when Maake met Peter Rich who lent a helping hand. Rich’s vuvuzela was, however, a bit too short for Maake’s liking. In 1999, the vuvuzela and soccer fanatic teamed up with Masincedane Plastics to produce the device, and Maake attempted to market his instrument by releasing a CD named “Vuvuzela Cellular” which prominently features the horn as a musical instrument.

Today Maake survives mostly by living off the proceeds of his CD which he sells at soccer matches. He has nine sons and feels that the South African legal system has failed to protect him from being exploited by those with greater stores of wealth. Perhaps, somewhat ironically, the story behind the vuvuzela is also a symbol of an unfortunate truth about South Africa: in too many instances, the might of capital trumps fairness and justice.

Controversy

The first round of controversy concerning the use of the vuvuzela in sports stadiums arose during the course of the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup. The worries regarding the instrument’s ability to generate noise and the consequent effects on players’ abilities to communicate on the pitch (as well as health concerns) were not severe enough for FIFA to ban the noise maker from the 2010 event. Was this the correct decision?

The sound level produced by the vuvuzela, considering its size, is enormously surprising: at 1 metre away from the device’s opening, the sound level measures 120dB. This sound is the threshold of pain, and exposure for extended periods of time can lead to noise-induced hearing loss. In light of this, clinically speaking, it would be in the crowd’s best interest to have the vuvuzela either banned from stadiums, or at least muffled in some significant way (that is, to lower is sound level).

For fans, however, the dangers seem well worth the fun caused by the positive effect that the vuvuzela has on spectator spirit. The negative effect of the noise cannot, however, be diminished: this is proven by the fact that during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the demand for ear plugs eventually outstripped their (plentiful) supply.

Another concern for health care professionals was the potential the vuvuzela has for spreading disease. A study completed by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine established that vuvuzelas can aid in the spreading of illness as the instrument could be seen as a highly effective conduit for flu and cold germs. This is to say that the vuvuzela is much more effective than mere shouting and singing in suspending germs (that can remain air-borne for several hours) in the air in the stadium. The obvious implication for this was that, considering the cup was held during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter months, the vuvuzela was directly responsible for a higher incidence of illness than otherwise would have been experienced.

In another clinical study, this time done locally by the University of Pretoria, found that noise levels produced by the device exceed the maximum recommended daily noise exposure: that is, the instrument produced a decibel level of 113dB at a distance of 2m from its opening. The daily recommended allowance for noise levels is 100dB for no more than a total of 45 seconds. Attending a match and standing close to a person blowing on a vuvuzela can therefore be very detrimental to one’s hearing. Not only is temporary hearing loss a high probability, but permanent damage can be done too. Newer models of the product include a noise reduction mouth piece which is said to reduce the volume of the vuvuzela by up to 20dB.

Owing to the media attention garnered by the device during the 2010 FIFA World Cup numerous sporting grounds and sporting organisations have banned the vuvuzela from their respective events. Notably, UEFA has decided not to allow the noise maker into matches organised by the association, and the 2012 Olympic organising committee has similarly decided not allow the vuvuzela into Olympic events. Owing to this fact, I would definitely buy an iPhone if Apple were to release an app that mimics the sound of the vuvuzela, if at a reduced volume!

Despite the negative publicity, however, certain players and football personalities came out in defence of the instrument, arguing that it was part of South African culture, and that just because it didn’t conform to European norms shouldn’t automatically qualify the proposal that FIFA ban the device from stadiums during the world cup.

Origins

The origins of the vuvuzela are scientifically unproven, but the popular South African tradition holds that the modern day apparatus is a direct descendent of a kudu horn instrument used to summon African villagers to community gatherings. The word, vuvuzela, has somewhat more reliable origins: it is widely regarded to be a Zulu colloquialism for the phrase, “noise maker”. The word “vuvu”, in the Nguni dialect, means noise and the suffice “zela” indicates that the noun has been made into a verb. In terms of its English translation, vuvuzela could be seen (literally) to mean “noise-ing” or “making a noise” (the phrase, noise maker, takes the verbal form of the original Zulu word and returns it to a noun). In Tswana, the noise maker is known as Lepata Mambu.

In terms of the vuvuzela’s existence outside of South Africa, corneta and other aerophone devices have been utilised in Latin America (most notably, in Brazil) since the early 1960s. In North America, plastic horns known as “Stadium Horns” have similarly been utilised since the 60s. Early in 2010, however, Kaizer Chiefs fanatic Freddie Maake claimed that the instrument so ubiquitous in local stadiums was in fact an invention he had made in 1965. Maake, somewhat surprisingly, substantiated his claim by producing photographic evidence of his four and a half decade old aluminium prototype (constructed using a bicycle horn). Maake further claimed that he had also coined the term vuvuzela, taking it from the Zulu language and intended it to mean “celebration”.

The contemporary vuvuzela is a cheaply manufactured, moulded plastic apparatus approximately 650mm in length. It is trumpet shaped, meaning that the diameter of the mouth piece gradually widens towards its opposite end (increasingly quickly the further away from the mouth piece one looks). The instrument, as typically used, only produces one note, which can be regarded as being more or less equivalent with the Bb note a full tone below middle C.

The vuvuzela has long been used at local soccer matches, and as such, has become synonymous with South African football. Indeed, the noise maker is part of a greater tradition in which fanatical supporters adopt various elements, including highly expressive dress, to signify not only their respective team, but to indicate their individual dedication to the team’s success. Well known for these types of get ups are the supporters of two of South Africa’s most famous teams (both based in Soweto): Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates. The “Soweto derby”, as the annual premiership fixture between the two teams has become known, is a spectacular show of supporters’ creativity as they try to outdo one another with respect to their dedication to their teams. Without fail, the vuvuzela inevitably makes an appearance as part of fans’ apparel.

It was interesting to note that something so ingrained in local culture should have been the focus of so much international attention: the vuvuzela first came to fame during the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup; but even then, it wasn’t anticipated that noise maker would become as much of a point of controversy in the international media as it eventually became.

Whatever, precisely, might have been involved in the genesis of the vuvuzela and its popularisation in South Africa, it cannot be disputed that the unassuming instrument played a significant role in making the 2010 FIFA World Cup an authentically South African affair.

Introduction

The atmosphere was alive with anticipation: even the cold night air couldn’t detract from the electricity that seemed to permeate the immense crowd. Colourful displays of national flags and vivid signs of team support only seemed to add to the chaos of the moment; but the intense assault on the visual faculties was dwarfed by the resounding and ubiquitous drone of thousands of vuvuzelas.

The spectacle of a capacity crowd filling the newly built, masterfully designed soccer stadium, bleeding its enthusiasm and passion into the darkness of night, illuminating that same dark with what seemed like human energy alone, could only be completed by the sound of South Africans speaking in one voice: the voice given by the vuvuzela.

Indeed, it would have been a world cup like any other had South Africa not asserted its own identity, stamped the event with the Geist of its own culture, and refused to merely meet the norms of footballing communities around the world. With the addition of the vuvuzela, the 2010 FIFA World Cup became an African World Cup, and a world cup worthy of any of its predecessors.

And being an event true to the African way, it was not without its controversy: massive government spending on world cup related infrastructure in a country with high levels of grinding poverty, allegations of corruption in FIFA’s governing body and expected crime sprees all stood to undermine the success of the spectacle. It was, however, the emergence of the vuvuzela that took the spotlight, and far from miring the event as anti-vuvuzela lobbyists had hoped, it instead let the world know that the animated and colourful support base of African football was a singular creature filled to the brim with vociferous ferocity. This is to say that being in a stadium with vuvuzela equipped fans is not exactly a quiet afternoon walk perusing the property for sale in Stellenbosch: it is instead having every ocular nerve assaulted by an unending explosion of sound…

For a foreign team, to play in front of an African audience is to face the unapologetic and unrelenting disdain of that same audience; but for the home side, it is to play in a team of thousands. Although supporters around the globe are known to be fanatical, the level of intimidation from a vuvuzela equipped crowd is profound. Conversely, the support of a raucous crowd can spur a team to perform beyond its potential, and perhaps it is in this fact alone that the source of much animosity could be found: this is to say that the above mentioned creature that is African football is a being of wrath…

One a less dramatic note, the appearance of the vuvuzela could perhaps be seen to have added to the hype surrounding the world cup, giving observers food for thought and a topic for conversation; that is, of course, if they could be heard above the Bb note produced from the trumpet shaped noise-making instrument. Indeed, TV announcers and game commentators could often not be heard by their native audiences owing to the immense sound projection, and somewhat brassy timbre, of the horde of vuvuzelas brought into the stadium by touring fans and, in the majority, local South Africans taking advantage of this once in a lifetime experience. Whereas it is usually appropriate to buy a camera to capture the sights of a grand event, there is little doubt that images alone could not quite capture the atmosphere found in stadiums during our World Cup.

Despite the uproar and noise that protests against the instrument generated (ironically), the unanimous verdict on the African World Cup was that it was an, um, resounding success. In this, as in many other aspects of the continent’s existence, Africa proved naysayers to be incorrect in their Afro-pessimism. The 2010 FIFA World Cup has set a new benchmark for the event’s hosting, and it is only Brazil – with its flair and festive population – that the 2014 World Cup could follow the lead set by its Southern Hemisphere cohort, South Africa. Any other destination would (in comparison with the African event) make the tournament seem as banal as kitchen appliances networks selling their wares all day long…

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