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Love it or hate it, the vuvuzela is the voice of South African soccer fans and will be on display at the 2010 World Cup. (Jon Hrusa / epa / Corbis)

Vuvuzela: The Buzz of the World Cup

Deafening to fans, broadcasters and players, the ubiquitous plastic horn is closely tied to South Africa’s soccer tradition

The horns, FIFA officials said, were too much a part of the South African tradition to silence them. “It’s a local sound, and I don’t know how it is possible to stop it,” Joseph S. Blatter, FIFA’s president, told reporters. “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 horn began showing up at matches in Soweto in the 1990s between the Kaizer Chiefs and the Orlando Pirates, rivals and the two most popular South African teams. Kaizer Motaung, a South African who played in the North American Soccer League in the mid-1970s, founded the Chiefs and began promoting the horn. The vuvuzela was introduced at their games in the 1990s with gold horns for Chiefs’ fans and black or white for Pirates’ fans.

“The [two teams] have a huge following all over the country,” Nauright says. “In fact, that game is probably still more watched than the Bafana Bafana, when the national team plays.”

Playing the horns to encourage teams to the attack became part of the culture, a way for fans to express themselves, much the way South American soccer fans drum during games. “There is a grass roots organic culture out of the townships using soccer as a way to be creative in a society that oppressed people on a daily basis,” Nauright says.

In Cape Town, a music educator, Pedro Espi-Sanchis, created a vuvuzela orchestra in 2006 that plays regularly at matches of the Bloemfontein Celtic club. Some of the songs are set to dancing and singing. “For guys who know how to play it really well, you have a technique, almost like a didgeridoo. You use the tongue to make different sounds,” Nauright says.

The origin of the vuvuzela is murky. Nauright explains that some people have promoted it as a modern incarnation of the traditional kudu horn used to call villagers to gatherings. But he also says horns were used in Cape Town and Johannesburg to call customers to fish carts. Early versions were made of aluminum or tin. It wasn’t until a manufacturer, Masincedane Sport, received a grant in 2001 to supply soccer stadiums with plastic horns that it exploded in popularity.

Now, they’re inescapable. The only other country where horns are heard so extensively at soccer matches is Mexico. And guess what? South Africa and Mexico meet in the World Cup opener.

“It’s sure to be the loudest match at the World Cup,” Nauright says.

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About Jim Morrison
Jim Morrison

Jim Morrison is a freelance writer whose stories, reported from two dozen countries, have appeared in numerous publications including Smithsonian.com, the New York Times, and National Wildlife.

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