Vuvuzelas in South Africa

Vuvuzelas in South Africa. Image by Caldwella

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. A central controversy was, however, the emergence of the vuvuzela that took the spotlight: in the minds of  old ladies clutching their handbags and disconcerted players the instrument blighted the event instead of enhancing it.

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 vestibular 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 rather than a polite and innocent pet fed on puppy food…

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…