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South Africa Debate

Time for the vuvuzela to stop

June 14, 2010
By Firdose Moonda

I have a confession to make: I am a South African and I want vuvuzelas banned at World Cup matches. I know, foreigners will call me sensibly westernised just like them and locals will want me tried for treason but I don't care. I've had my eardrums reach bursting point three times in as many weeks, and I've had enough.

South Africa
GettyImagesA young South African fan gets ready for kick-off.

• Warshaw: Ban not considered
• Brewin: African culture drowned out

First, there were over 50,000 vuvuzelas at the Bafana Bafana friendly against Colombia at Soccer City, then a few thousand more tormented me at the Portugal/Mozambique match and on Sunday more were blown at and around me at my first World Cup match - Ghana v Serbia.

I am not one of those South Africans (and there are plenty) who had never attended a football match before and now realise they can't handle the noise. I've heard plenty a vuvuzela in my football-watching life and the sound is not foreign to me at all. I respect the traditions and culture of my football loving countrymen in its entirety and now I ask that they respect me.

It's a vain hope, I know, because I don't often get much acknowledgement from fellow South African football fans, because of the Premier Soccer League (PSL) team I support. You see, I am a loyal fan of BIDvest Wits, and I will not take offence if you've never heard of them. They are not the Kaizer Chiefs or Orlando Pirates of our league, and this season they finished in 10th place. However, Wits achieved their only claim to fame in all the years I've supported them this season as they won the Nedbank Cup (the local version of the FA Cup).

My love affair with this mid table mediocrity of a team began when I was a student reporter on the university paper. I was the chief sports writer of my year and covered Wits football intricately. I went to almost all of their matches, which were played at the University ground (where the Netherlands have been training) that has a capacity of 5,000. No more than 2,000 people pitched for most, and only about every tenth person carried a vuvuzela.

Do the maths, and you'll know that very rarely did the stadium have more than 200 vuvuzelas. Our noisiest matches were against Kaizer Chiefs, when one of their fans brought his air raid signal with him. He would sit on the grass area, in between the grandstand and the open stand and wind up that signal for takeoff every few minutes. Moving away from his and his noise machine was pretty simple and I spared myself a headache almost every time.

Most PSL supporters will have similar tales to tell. Attendance at these matches is hardly ever in excess of 10,000 and averages at around half of that. Obviously, the big matches between Soweto rivals Chiefs and Orlando Pirates attract far bigger crowds, with far more noise but that is an exception. Bloem Celtic, the team based in the Free State, also usually have larger crowds, but their fans are known for their synchronised singing, dancing and clapping routine., which is far less noisy and more pleasant than vuvuzela blowing.

Where I think the organisers have gone wrong is that they assumed the noise at the World Cup would be the same as at local matches. What they didn't realise is that tens of thousands of more people would be going to the World Cup with tens of thousands more vuvuzelas (why the Confederations Cup didn't indicate this, I'll never know) and the noise would become unbearable. The blowing would also become even more out of context than before, resulting in just plain irritation for a lot of people.

Fans brandish vuvuzelas as South Africa play Mexico
GettyImagesFans brandish vuvuzelas as South Africa play Mexico

The vuvuzela has come under attack for being a bit of a dunce - blurting into the match at any stage irrespective of what is happening on the field - and this World Cup is only reinforcing that. In PSL matches, it is used more towards the end of a game when fans are trying to blow their opposition away, particularly if their team is losing. Of course, a lot of the people going to the World Cup have never been to a PSL match and don't know this.

I haven't heard anybody argue that this tradition should be respected, but the head honchos at FIFA claim to all about understanding and upholding culture. Sounds like a pretty superficial understanding to me. David Lloyd, better known as Bumble, a cricket commentator, asked on his twitter account that if vuvuzelas were so traditional, where were they when Nelson Mandela was released? Whether the precursor to the vuvuzela, the kudo horn, was around then, I can't be certain of, but Bumble makes a good point.

The vuvuzela is not, as FIFA would have you believe, the only traditional thing about football here. They have not, as it has been widely reported, been blown for as long as football has been played in this country. They are simply a cute, marketing tool that has been blown way out of proportion.

I am perfectly fine with having 200 of them at a PSL match but having 60,000 of them in a packed Soccer City is a little too much for my ear drums and I have left all three matches I've attended with a headache and a foul mood. All I hope is that the promotions people don't decide the air raid signal is also an African tradition - one of those per stadium was already more than enough.