Much of the talk on Radio 702 yesterday focused on the vuvuzelas at the Confederation Cup soccer games and it seems there are polarized opinions of them – people either love `em or hate `em. FIFA’s initial concerns about the vuvuzela (probably influenced as much by their potential for competitive advertising, as by the loud cacophony they produce en-masse), were laid to rest by the Local Organizing Committee’s insistence that both the vuvuzela and the makarapa were central to the South African soccer experience. So despite the fact that Dutch journalists, Spanish players and many Gautengers alike, decry them as noisy and distracting, calling for them to be banned, they are definitely here to stay. At a media briefing before the Confederations Cup Group A match between Bafana Bafana and New Zealand at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium on 17 June, Sepp Blatter agreed that the ‘trumpet’ was a noisy instrument but said: ‘That is what African and South Africa football is all about – noise, excitement, dancing, shouting and enjoyment. This is a celebration.’ (www.citizen.co.za 18/06/09)
One of the questions on Jenny Crwys-Williams’ 702 Q&A session on (18 June 09) was: ‘What is the history of the vuvuzela?’. No really informative answer came in form listeners .. So after some googling and speaking to Fiona Rankin-Smith of the Wits University Art Galleries who is curating an exhibition for the Standard Bank around soccer for the 2010 World Cup, I came up with some info.
The variations in the understanding of both the history and the origins of the naming of the vuvuzela, point to what Hobshawm referred to as ‘the invention of tradition’. One widely circulated ‘myth of origin’ refers to the traditional African source of the vuvuzela. In this ‘rooted-deep-in-African-history’ narrative, its origins are traced back to the blowing of a horn, usually a kudu horn, to announce an arrival or a celebration in a village, as well as to call people to a meeting – all fitting associations for a soccer game. Interestingly members of the Shembe Church who appropriate clothing and accessories as diverse as school rugby socks and police whistles, also use trumpets akin to the vuvuzela. Platinum Stars Communications Manager Putco Mafani, (who used to be the PR for Kaiser Chiefs) in discussion with an SA2010 reporter (30 March 2009 SA2010.gov.za), claimed the origins of the vuvuzela lie in the blowing of a horn to mark the beginning of battles. Whether accurate or not, this certainly associates the vuvuzela with situations of rivalry and contest.
The idea of contest is developed more metaphorically and playfully by Mafani (in the same interview) when he says that “There is an old African saying that goes like this: ‘The baboon is killed by a lot of noise’. We make as much noise as we can to confuse our opponents on the field. .. “Remember this game is not like golf or tennis, where you are actively encouraged to keep quiet. This is a loud game.” And it was in this joyous raucous celebratory and triumphant way that the vuvuzela was used by crowds of soccer supporters who watched the announcement of the hosting of the 2010 World Cup Soccer at Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown in May 2004. They then led a spontaneous whooping, trumpeting, whistling dance through Newtown over the newly opened Nelson Mandela Bridge and back into Newtown. The vuvuzela which had long been associated with Soweto soccer, particularly with the big Soweto derby games between arch rivals Orlando Pirates and Kaiser Chiefs, became inextricably linked with 2010 World Cup. In 2001 an empowerment company Masincedane Sport was set up to mass produce plastic vuvuzelas and after the announcement of the host nation in May 2004, some 20,000 vuvuzelas were sold. It is believed that when former president Nelson Mandela was invited to Zurich Switzerland for the announcement of the host country, he ordered hundreds of vuvuzelas to be taken over. The efforts of Sepp Blatter and Trevor Manuel at blowing the vuvuzela were caught on camera and beamed around the world, further entrenching the vuvuzela as an indigenous South African soccer emblem.
Various origins of the name vuvuzela are in circulation. Some say the name came from the isiZulu word for “making noise”. Others say the name refers to the “vuvu” sound it makes when blown – like an angry or distressed elephant trumpeting. Yet another theory is that, it comes from the township slang for “shower” as it resembles a showerhead. Wikipedia mentions its less known Setswana name: lepatata.
Also unique to South African soccer, along with the vuvuzelas, are the makarapa, the cut and decorated hard hats (worn by workmen and miners.) Makarapa means migrant workers (singular Lekarapa). Fans spend hours cutting the hard hats into intricate decorative shapes depicting the emblems and insignia of the various football teams which are then carefully painted. Although its origins area are again uncertain, credit for the makarapa is given to Alfred “Magistrate” Baloyi. He said he made the first ‘makarapa‘ in 1979. Using his safety helmet from his work place in what is now Limpopo province, he decorated it with soccer images and logos. The idea gained popularity and he started making for others. And as the World Cup approached so the demand rose for more mass-produced helmets. Baloyi then went into partnership with a sports marketer forming a company called Rapid Mass Prototyping based in downtown Johannesburg. In the last two months the workforce has grown from 8 to 31.( SAGoodnews.co.za 18/06/09) Baloyi’s hand crafting has been superseded by a German robot called Motoman which makes the cut-out designs of the helmet. These cut edges are then refined and bent into shapes under heat after which the artists paint the helmets and their embellishments.
So put aside R20 for your vuvuzela and between R200 and R800 for your makarapa, brave the horrendous traffic jams, fill our empty stadiums and have a jol supporting Bafana Bafana