From the beat of the samba drums in Brazil to the ringing of cow bells in Switzerland to the Mexican wave, the idiosyncrasies of several nationalities become apparent at football matches. South Africans are no exception, as those who have descended on the country for this year's FIFA Confederations Cup have discovered.
The vuvuzela is a vociferous air horn that reverberates around arenas with rare energy. It is also a proud and permanent symbol of its patrons.
"Without the vuvuzela, I don't think I would be able to enjoy football," said Sadaam Maake, one of South African football's celebrity followers. "It brings a special feeling to the stadiums. It is something that makes the fans want to get behind their team."
The vuvuzela was originally made from a kudu horn. Folklore has it that, in the ancient days, it was used to summon people to gatherings. Over the last 15 years, the sight and sound of the instrument being blown at games has evolved into an emblem of hope and unity for many South Africans.
"When we started the vuvuzela, there was so much sadness in our country in those years and it brought so much joy," explained Mzion Mofokeng, another iconic football enthusiast. "All of a sudden people would go to the stadiums because of this instrument that was able to get fans on their feet and start cheering. For few hours, they would forget about the reality in our society and enjoy the sound.
However, Mofokeng did add a warning: "In order for it to produce a nice sound, someone must know how to blow it. It must be done with a controlled voice and you need some art for that."
The vuvuzela was introduced to the world as an item synonymous with South African football on 15 May 2004, when it was announced the nation would host the 19th edition of the FIFA World Cup™. Upon confirmation of the decision, South Africa's sports minister Makhenkesi Stofile and then-finance minister Trevor Manuel led the chorus of vuvuzelas in the presence of dignitaries and members of the media from across the globe.
However, its sheer volume has taken many by surprise during the FIFA Confederations Cup. "For someone who is not used to it, it might be a bit awkward," said Gladys Gialey, a Bafana Bafana diehard. "This is why I believe we must educate fans from outside South Africa about it. For me, as a football fan, I don't have a problem with it."
Evidently, the vuvuzela is deeply entrenched in football culture in a country fiercely dedicated to staging an unforgettable FIFA World Cup. "It is African culture, we are in Africa and we have to allow them to practice their culture as much as they want to," said FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter.
"Vuvuzelas, drums and signing are part of African football culture. It is part of their celebration, it is part of their culture, so let them blow the vuvuzelas."