Dear Vuvus: We should not forget you!


By Elif Kayi

OPINION. After having spoken ill of the French and German national soccer teams in the past weeks, I find it hard not to close this World Cup without reporting on the winner. While I start these lines, the suspense is still at its highest. Who between Spain or the Netherlands is going to be the winner of the World Cup 2010? Anyway, when you read these lines, the whole world will already know…

By the way, when I was an Erasmus student in the Dutch city of Nijmegen we were taught to please note the difference between the Netherlands (the whole country) and Holland (a region). Now I read that all of the Dutch are using the name “Holland” to speak of their country. All this useful knowledge we get at University…

English fans after Algeria-England game

Coming back to the World Cup. Actually I do exaggerate a little when I talk about “suspense” before the results of the final. Many will not have cheered at Sunday’s final no matter what the result will have been. Many would not have even known which team to support.

Apart from the overwhelming joy of the winners, the World Cup always has something of a sad ending. At its beginning it consecrates the revival of the concept of nation and even dares to arouse the nationalist beast in us. We all agreed that it is safe when it is about sport, isn’t it? So all nations start together –or next to each other to be more precise- happy and full of hope.

In his column, German journalist Deniz Yücel wrote in the daily Berlin-based TAZ about people’s behavior in Germany while the national team was still on the run: “Nobody hides his face in the newspaper any more in the metro. People speak, make fun, talk to each other. Or they read the newspaper together”.

As if the whole world has stopped and nothing else would matter. And in fact nothing else does matter, whether we like it or not. Did you notice how some of us started to feel empty after Sunday?

Poor Bafana Bafana, who did not make it to the eighth final! They were the first host team in the history of the world cup not to do so. Poor Cameroon lions, devastated and unable to score even one goal! Poor Nigerian Super Eagles, who were threatened by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to be banned from all international competition for two years! Better not to talk about the blue French, who managed to generate talk about them without even (really) playing… Poor Ghana, kicked out by a hand and a missed penalty. Poor Mannschaft, so full of energy against poor Maradona-Argentina, but so pale against Roja-Spain. And so on, and so on…

Portuguese player Cristiano Ronaldo crying after defeat against Spain

At the end one can only see a field of deceived egos and broken hearts eager for cold revenge, and disillusioned spirits in pursue of a new myth to cherish.

But whatever. At least there is one clear winner. An unexpected and completely global winner, opposed to the fragile concept of nation. Not all seem to appreciate it though. The few who liked it at the beginning got tired of it and those who did not like it kept on disliking it, even though it may portray many aspects of our human nature as well as today’s economy and politics. I should not even need to name it since you all know it by now. But just in case here it is: The Vuvuzela!

Vuvuzela @Kim Michael Nordberg

I have read that “vuvuzela” means “making noise” in the Zulu language. And the plastic colored horn that was introduced at sports events in South Africa in the early 90s, does indeed make noise! Players complained they could not hear their team-mates while playing. For instance,“We communicate only through gestures”, said French player Yoann Gourcuff after the game between France and Uruguay. Tests found noise levels, at full volume and when pressed against the ear, amounting to  almost 130 decibels.

A German even invented an “anti-vuvuzela filter”. Clemence Schlieweis, 29, a recording and mixing engineer from Munich, “sampled vuvuzelas from an early World Cup match and created an ‘inverse’ sound wave with the same amplitude as the original, but with the peaks and troughs of the wave reversed”. My technical understanding being close to zero on many aspects, I do not understand at all how it works but I heard it reduces the noise levels by at least 20 decibels.

But the vuvuzela also brought distress in some people’s lives. In South Africa a child was shot dead, apparently after having disturbed his neighbor with the sound of his vuvuzela. In Turkey, in the city of Gezbe, a fight started during a game after young fans had blown a vuvuzela, and the German tabloid Bild reported how a fan attacked a police officer with a vuvuzela.

But beyond the simple issue of noise and safety matters there is much more to the vuvuzela. Firstly a social component that should not be left unnoticed.

Concert of vuvuzelas

To describe the feeling of cohesion it creates, I prefer to quote the words of EMAJ Swedish reporter Kim Veerabuthroo Nordberg, who was in South Africa at the beginning of the competition. He reported on his impressions: “You know what it feels like to be the only person in the room who is not smoking? It is an awful feeling. I felt the same with the vuvuzela. I knew before going that it would be very annoying and that there would be nowhere to get away from it. So I decided before coming to South Africa to buy my own. If you can’t beat them, join them, you know. And to my surprise, I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the madness of 50 000 vuvuzelas mindlessly blowing out their joy. It was a feeling of carnival. Everyone can blow it and it is actually a great feeling. I do understand why it has become so insanely popular.”

Not everybody agrees on the origin and meaning of the vuvuzela. For the French sociologist Sylvain Cubizolles, author of a study on soccer practices in South Africa (“Soccer in a rugby town: restructuring football in Stellenbosch”), the vuvuzela symbolizes the appropriation of football by the black population of the country and contains therefore a strong political-historical dimension.

A thesis that is rejected by the left-liberal Hungarian weekly Heti Világgazdaság, which investigated the not so distant origins of the instrument and discovered an interesting business model: “But what the heck: the vuvuzela is sacred, … it’s a question of tradition. Let’s not forget, we’re in South Africa. … However the funny thing is that tradition has nothing to do with all this: as opposed to the truly traditional kudu horn, the metre-long plastic horn has only been around South African stadiums for the past ten years. The vuvuzela is manufactured by the lucky monopolist Neil van Sharkwijk, who also sells anti-vuvuzela earplugs as ‘antidotes’.”

And indeed, the vuvuzela is also business. It is firstly a local business as the French weekly magazine L’Express further reported. Neil Van Schalkwyk owns a company based in South Africa, that produces vuvuzelas, primarily designed in Germany. The production cost is about 60 euro cents and the selling price 5 euro per piece.

But more than that, it is a globalized business. Alternative groups and globalization critics should have found a new target to fight against. The Global Times China reported that nearly 90% of South Africa’s vuvuzelas are produced in China, by a company based in the province of Zhejiang.

The most expensive vuvuzela was bought by a Russian: A €17,000 gold and diamond-encrusted vuvuzela. As a comparison and according to a study published in the Epoch Times, the average monthly salary of an employee in Beijing only makes 3000-4000 yuan, which equates to about US$ 400.

Chinese workers

Even the telecom world surfs on the business wave. Youtube added a vuvuzela button and the IPhone application “Vuvuzela 2010” was downloaded more than a million times only in France and became the number one application in the country.

Vuvuzela application for IPhone

For some journalists, the vuvuzela, and to an extent football in general, is a way not to deal with important political or social matters. Mohamed Salah, Chief of the Cairo bureau of the Al-Hayat Arab newspaper, supports the idea that football has the ability to grab most people’s attention away from things that really matter in their life. According to him the phenomenon has taken place in the Arab world in the last few decades: “People do not care anymore what politicians are doing except on rare occasions, and some clichés mentioned in news reports like ‘exchanging points of view’ between politicians, agreeing on ‘cooperation between nations’ and ‘working together for a common future’ deserve to be called ‘political vuvuzela’. And they don’t attract anyone except media representatives while people are more interested in ‘football vuvuzela’“.

Iraqi writer Zaher Al Zobeidi even claimed –sarcastically- on the online website of the Iraqi cultural magazine that Iraq was the first country to have invented the vuvuzela even before South Africa: “The Iraqi vuvuzela is much louder and harmful than the South African one, it hurts the audience and leaves them on the big football ground called Iraq (…) No goal keepers or Golden Goals or even national or international referees could end the suffering of Iraqis. In South Africa the vuvuzela will stop by the end of the world cup but our ‘world cup’ never ends”.

However some journalists found a way to communicate through the vuvuzela. Like the correspondent of the French daily newspaper Libération in Egypt, Claude Guibal, who discussed with a seller at a fruit and vegetable market in Cairo: “It underlines how globalization can show its nose in an unlikely conversation between a peasant of the Nile borders and a French journalist, who put at the heart of their short-lived complicity a South African object, from which they had both completely ignored the existence of two weeks before”.

But now that the World Cup is over, what is the international future of the vuvuzela? The French agency AFP had reported during the World Cup that the French trade-union CGT had ordered a stock of vuvuzelas to make their voice heard at the national demonstration on June 24th against the reform of the pension system. The Spanish trade unions CCOO and UGT were also reported to have ordered several pieces for the demonstration in Barcelona on June 30th.

The French news portal Mediapart was one of the few media to defend the South African instrument from its many media critics: “Our editorial standpoint is simple: the whole world is against vuvuzelas, we are for them. … Just as our website is the location where opposing viewpoints meet, so too the football stadium should be the place where differences of all kinds rub shoulders in a spirit of brotherhood.”

L'Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt

Mediapart even suggested the use of the vuvuzela in front of the French Elysée palace by any protest against the French government. With the current scandal around the L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt and accusations of illegal funding of Sarkozy’s presidential campaign, the French should really think about it. The government currently tries to bring Mediapart into discredit for its published report based on conversations secretly recorded, accusing the newspaper of “fascist methods”, as said by the Secretary-General of the ruling party UMP, Xavier Bertrand.

We journalists should think of taking the vuvuzela, blow out our commitment to a free press and blow against any kind of political pressure on media. To express our support for Tunisian journalists Fahem Boukadous, Zouhair Makhlouf and Taoufik Ben Brik. To denounce the imprisonment of Azeri bloggers Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli. To protest against the law Bavaglio in Italy that restricts the power of the Italian legal system to fight crime and corruption, and imposes draconian fines for editors and journalists…

Now the World Cup is over: Viva España! But still so many occasions to take out our vuvuzelas…

Campaign of Reporters without Borders @RSF

Thank you to my dear colleagues and friends, Kim Veerabuthroo Nordberg, Nasry Esmat and Sophia Pfisterer for their precious help 🙂



Filed under Journalism, Sports, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Dear Vuvus: We should not forget you!

  1. Marina

    hehe, vuvuzelas as business, vuvuzelas overshadowing more important criticism, vuvuzelas as a megaphone!!! love it… and Kim is so … like Kim! my tiny contribution in the Swedish reporting on Vuvuzelas. It is harder to blow it than it looks 🙂

  2. Elif

    Dear Marina, I’m really impressed! I never tried to blow it but I heard it is very difficult.
    See her French junior sports minister Rama Yade having a try:

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