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In defence of the vuvuzela

Pierre de Vos
16 June 2010

Pierre de Vos replies to Western criticism of our beloved plastic trumpet

CAPE TOWN - United Kingdom websites are abuzz with comments from irate football fans who complain about the blowing of the Vuvuzela during matches of the Fifa World Cup in South Africa. The vast majority of these comments call for the banning of the instrument from stadiums. Sensitive British football fans (if that is not a contradiction in terms) complain about the noise, which they claim is so loud and irritating that it becomes impossible to watch a game with the sound on the television turned up.

Africans are known for their singing and dancing, some claim, but this is now all drowned out by the incessant noise from Vuvuzela's. The background noise to the world cup has become the sound of  a huge swarm of bees. This spoils the atmosphere of the football game as one can hardly hear the fans cheering and singing.

In any case, this would never have been allowed at any Football World Cup organized in Europe, so why allow it in South Africa? It is just plain rude to make such a racket when the whole world is watching. This is just not how things are done in Europe, where TV viewers are used to the atmosphere provided by the singing, chanting and shouting of the spectators. The Vuvuzela is spoiling the whole world cup for Europeans!

Now, I am not sure if I am watching the same television feed as the British, but the claim that the noise made by Vuvuzela's at football games is so loud that it makes it impossible to watch the game on television with the sound turned on seems just plain ridiculous. At most it provides a background noise which might be monotonous but surely is not ear-splitting. So, why are so many people so upset?

Of course, the critics are entitled to express their dislike of the soundtrack to the 2010 World Cup. Let's face it, that buzzing noise is not the most musical or attractive sound that human kind is capable of producing, and expressing a dislike for the Vuvuzela is therefore perfectly understandable. Personally I have come to love the whole Vuvuzela thing - especially the vibe it generates when one is there at the match oneself  - but I understand that, like olives or blue cheese, this is an acquired taste not shared by all.

But something about the tenor of all these complaints have gotten up my nose. Maybe I am overtly sensitive or maybe I am intellectualizing something that is no more than a personal preference, but I smell more than a whiff of cultural imperialism in much of the criticism of our beloved Vuvuzela.

It seems to me what underlies much of the criticism, is a set of rather problematic assumptions.

First, much of the criticism seems to assume that the norm of what should be acceptable (and therefore permissible), must be based on what happens in Europe. "This is how we do it in Europe. We know best and always have. Therefore you must follow our example like good imperial subjects to demonstrate to us that you are also civilized and up to our standards."

This rather blinkered and prejudiced lack of respect for difference suggests that many critics of the Vuvuzela labour under a false sense of cultural superiority. They view their cultural and social beliefs and practices as the undisputed norm to which all others must conform, without any understanding of, or respect for, the multitude of ways in which different societies and people might have chosen different ways of being in the world. This is the very essence of cultural imperialism.

Second, all the talk about Africans being such good singers and dancers and complaints that viewers are missing out on this because of the Vuvuzela, plays on a racial stereotype. It is as if, having been exposed to stereotypical images of the happy dancing and singing natives, some of the critics cannot come to grips with a very different narrative of what South Africa is all about. What they want, perhaps, is for all of us to sing and dance and smile - just like the performers in Ipi Tombi and Umoja who have been entertaining the baas in theaters in the West End for many years.

Now we have the cheek not to conform to the stereotypes they have been expecting to have confirmed. Instead, we have taken to this cheap, plastic trumpet (for better or for worse) and have made it the soundtrack to the Soccer World Cup - which is really their Soccer World Cup - and thus have shown an agency and an independence of mind and spirit which we as the erstwhile colonized are not supposed to possess.

In the process, we have taken something away from them - their World Cup experience as they want it! - and made it into something slightly different. We are not playing by the rules, which dictate that we should be grateful for having been selected to host the World Cup and we should consequently make sure that we provide a World Cup experience to Europeans as close as possible to what they are used to and what they expect.

Sadly I suspect it is not much use to point out the cultural imperialism underlying some of the criticism of the Vuvuzela. If one is so deep in denial about one's own prejudices, and so blind to the fact that one is embedded in (and to some extent a prisoner of) a particular culture, it is difficult to accept that one's own views and normative commitments are not universal and inherently superior truths handed down by God, but merely one of many ways of making sense of the world.

Maybe it's better to laugh and shrug one's shoulders - while putting some extra effort into blowing your Vuvuzela as loud as possible.

Pierre de Vos is the Claude Leon Foundation Chair in Constitutional Governance at the University of Cape Town. This article first appeared on the Constitutionally Speaking weblog.

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 responses to this article

Now those sound pretty K** if you ask me!

by robericom on June 16 2010, 15:55
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the weapon of world cup destruction
If one follows the postings on the wall of the facebook campaign : "FIFA, ban the annoying vuvzela (horn) from the football world cup" , one will find excactly what the author is describing. Criticism is coming from all over, not just the erstwhile . .more

by arnaud on June 16 2010, 17:22
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The BBC got 500 complaints
If one assumes that only 1 in 1000 people actually make the effort to officially place a complaint then that is 500,000 unhappy TV viewers in the UK alone. I know I am certainly rationing my viewing to essential matches - my wife can't stand having it on . .more

by Sad Days on June 16 2010, 18:05
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Hahahaha utter nonsense
What a laughable piece, European impierliasm.....hahaha, someones overlay paranoid. That bloody trumpet doing everyones head in......not because I feel intellectually better than you, (mr everybody is out to get us) but simply the noise is so irritating I . .more

by John H on June 16 2010, 19:23
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cultural imperialism ?
Pierre de Vos writes:

"Of course, the critics are entitled to express their dislike of the soundtrack to the 2010 World Cup. Let's face it, that buzzing noise is not the most musical or attractive sound that humankind is capable of producing, & . .more

by John Austin on June 16 2010, 22:17
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laugh a minute
One of his worst posts ever

by voter on June 17 2010, 06:39
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time to reconsider
Now that South Africa are almost certainly out of the WC maybe Mr Blatter will reconsider

by amused on June 17 2010, 07:03
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May someone blow a vuvuzela right into his ear for 90 minutes without stopping. May he be fitted with the hearing aid of his choice and at his expense after enduring the experience. Gee, why are there laws against noise above a certain decible level, or . .more

by Steve Weiss on June 17 2010, 07:23
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Pierre you seem to be paralyzed by white guilt. In your blog you voiced your anger about name changes in Cape Town not happening fast enough, but say nothing when a brand new airport and stadium are named after Shaka Zulu and Peter Mokaba. What did FIFA . .more

by junebug on June 17 2010, 07:46
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I may be wrong here but I feel I have to say this (singe you are using phrases like "cultural imperialism"). Pierre it seems you have deep emotional scars about being vilified for being homosexual by afrikaans people. I have also been vilified by hard . .more

by lrunber on June 17 2010, 08:07
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Its not a trumpet!
The definition of a trumpet is "the musical instrument with the highest register in the brass family. They are constructed of brass tubing bent twice into an oblong shape, and have either three piston valves or three rotary valves. Each valve increases . .more

by M Holland on June 17 2010, 08:28
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Something for France to consider
The more goals scored against Bafana, the quieter it gets ...

by Sad Days on June 17 2010, 08:44
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Dear Prof De Vos

This is the best analysis of the critism of the Vuvuzela I have ever read. It is cultural imperialism indeed. at first we were not worthy of hosting the FIFA world cup and now we must conform to what the british want. Nonsense. . .more

by Chris Swepu on June 17 2010, 09:05
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@de Vos
Ja-nee, ons het jou altevore hoor kraai jou ou draadsitter. n Mens kan arm van gees wees maar sekere groepe is arm aan kultuur daarom word wit tekkies en n stuk plastiek sommer nou aan gegryp en aan die wereld verkondig dit is kultuur.

by Koos on June 17 2010, 09:10
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Its an insult to musical instruments and an assault on our senses
I posted on Facebook that the very next time an assh... blasts one of these objectionable objects in my ear in a shopping centre, the incident will make front page news as it will have to be surgically removed from a certain oriface. 'Feel it, trust . .more

by Utter nonsense on June 17 2010, 09:35
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say what
@ Swepu......where do you get...."we must conform to what the british want".......people from every country all around the world are complaining about this monstrosity. You live in a very tiny country in a very big world

by voter on June 17 2010, 10:33
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As a life long English football supporter and now resident in SA it has in my experience anyway of big matches, that much of the huge atmosphere and enjoyment, is the reaction of the crowd and the noise and or singing and chanting that the crowd makes. . .more

by Robin Africa on June 17 2010, 10:37
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We chose to play their game
In essence you are right that there are standards which are linked with global progress and those eminate substantually from Europe. Africa is bedazzled by the rewards of such progress without wanting to earning them.
If you don't want to play their . .more

by Tristan on June 17 2010, 11:18
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Politically correct a*ss kissing at its worst
Prof de Vos is clearly one of those tearful liberals who cannot be happy unless he is wracked by guilt about being white. Get a life, f*ggot!

by Afrikaner on June 17 2010, 11:23
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Let this be the beginning of a new tradition ......... not.
Pierre, how about we pass this 'tradition' on to the next generation hey. A 'hearing impaired generation will surely express their heartfelt gratitude to us (and FIFA) for the rest of their lives and pass the tradition on to the next generation who . .more

by Sorry I can't hear you on June 17 2010, 11:37
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Cultural Imperialism?
Since when is the vuvuzela part of South African culture? Last year? Ag nee wat ou Pierrie man. It's a marketing campaign. Very successful one too, taking a whole nation for a ride.

by Pieter Schoombee on June 17 2010, 11:41
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SA Identity
Both @Swepu and Pierre de Vos are behaving just like the old Nats when the country was criticised for, you know little things like apartheid. The answer was always that we are South Africans and know what is best, and you don't live here so you cannot . .more

by JOHN KALALA on June 17 2010, 11:52
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Good piece
I don't profess to being a 'prog' or tree hugging liberal but the racial ideologies being expressed apropos the vuvuzela are crystal clear. Well said Pierre.

by Bruce on June 17 2010, 13:15
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The decision makers have created a monster
Allowing the blatant, unrestricted use of this provenly damaging 'instrument' has created a monster that is going to 'bite us in the A**' in time to come. There will literally have to be parliamentary discussion, including medical reports from doctors . .more

by Time will tell on June 17 2010, 13:26
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I have a plan
Once the World Cup is over, and i'm counting the days, have a period of amnesty whereby all South African citizens can hand their offensive weapons of torture over to the authorities. No citizen who complies will be penalised. On the otherhand, those . .more

by Vuvzela amnesty on June 17 2010, 13:57
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who do you sue ?
You somewhat miss the point. These things can lead to permanent loss of hearing after 15 mins exposure . I bought my own "MY BLOED IS BLOU " vuvu in Orlando . I had earache for 4 days after the Bulls game and my ears are still hurting after I attended the . .more

by sc on June 17 2010, 14:23
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P******* lot, the vuvuzela is here to stay, and defines our world cup in Mzantsi, you can moan and get grey hairs it is here, get used to it.

by Mmina-Shoro on June 17 2010, 14:25
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This has to be the Ultimate Stereotype!
So, because I dislike the sound of thousands of vuvuzelas I am a cultural imperialist racist????

U gotta be joking Mr de Vos. Grow an intellect, man!

by Saffer on June 17 2010, 14:42
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Obviously many missed Cart Blanche last Sunday. The host said earplugs were banned by FIFA as the organisation that manufactured them was not party to a FIFA
approval. Just another case of FIFA's dictatorship.

by Buster on June 17 2010, 15:32
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Thanks for the heads up Buster
How disgusting? And we, nation of morons that we are, fall for the whole vuvuzella hype risking something as precious and irreplaceable as our hearing so that an organisation like FIFA can make as much money out of us possible!!! Every short term . .more

by Not surprised on June 17 2010, 16:50
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Jimmel Pierre
Daai lawaaimaker is deur ene Steenkamp 7 jaar terug op die mark gebring. Wil jy nou vir ons vertel dis "ingeburgerde kultuur". Al van noise polution gehoor? Klassieke geval. Maar ek skat dis 'n alte gerieflike ou sambokkie om die Engelse by te kom vir . .more

by Voelvry on June 17 2010, 17:03
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A very sensible reply
from a man who can always be counted on for sensible advice!

by Alto on June 17 2010, 17:30
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There was a black African young woman on the radio the other morning, saying she had been to a match, and the 2 days later she couldn't answer the phone because of the pain in her ears. She was also still hearing the sound of the vuvuzelas in her ears. . .more

by Jeff on June 17 2010, 19:02
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@John Austin
First read this article in this morning's Cape Times. Was going to write a reply along the lines of your post here. I don't understand why all criticism has to be turned into a case of imperialism or racism.
This horn has only been mass produced over . .more

by Jeff on June 17 2010, 19:09
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Making a mountain out of a molehill?

Gawd! Talk of using a steamroller to crack a nut! It seems to me de Vos is the kind of person who enjoys a really good bout of righteous anger accompanied by an equally outrageous outburst of mindless rant.

I'm a good South African "in murg . .more

by mpho on June 17 2010, 20:09
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When you are in Rome, you must do like the Romans.
I have seen our foriegn visitors here in Gauteng and at the OR TAMBO airport blowing the vuvuzela's like there is no other day, the majority of our foriegn visitors are loving the sound of vuvuzela, the British are always undermining us and we must not . .more

by Louis xvii on June 17 2010, 20:28
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@Louis xvii
Yeah, by all means have fun blowing your vuvu; I bought my little kid one too; small things amuse small minds.

by fuzz on June 17 2010, 22:35
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@ fuzz
So what do you suggest, that I am small minded ?

by Louis xvii on June 18 2010, 01:38
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Vuvuzelas are not atmosphere.
A totally nonsense article.
Fans watching on TV around the world want to see atmosphere and interchange between rival fans at the ground. This has totally been lost because of the monotonous drone of the vuvuzelas. This is what we want to see from . .more

by For a Better World Cup on June 18 2010, 04:56
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Oh the Irony .....
Actually, the assault of a thousand vuvuzelas arguably fits the definition of 'Cultural Imperialism'.

by Saffer on June 18 2010, 05:34
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@Louis xvii. The main reason that foreigners enthusiastically blow these horns over here is that it is not permitted anywhere else in the world by noise pollution legislation and common sense. It is done as a lark and then discarded.

However, . .more

by Jacko on June 19 2010, 11:07
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