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Business

South Africa's vuvuzela is a high-volume business

No visit to a soccer stadium in South Africa is complete without a vuvuzela. The long, thin plastic horn is a popular fan article and could dominate audio coverage at the upcoming World Cup games.

Soccer fan blowing a vuvuzela

South Africa's vuvuzelas promise to be a blast

The vuvuzela sounds a bit like a lovesick elephant or an angry bull - at least to European ears. But for most South Africans, it's the unmistakable sound of soccer. It's simply part of the game, according to Johannesburg soccer fan Clinton Currie.

"For me personally, I would say it represents our country, what we're about," Currie told Deutsche Welle. "We're a noisy bunch of people basically, so that what it represents to me is something uniquely South African."

Passion turned business

Currie first started playing the vuvuzela 12 years ago. What began as a bit of fun with a simple instrument gradually evolved into a passion – and a business plan. The entrepreneur took the horn, which was previously available only in a single color, and branded it by adding a range of printed designs and colors.

Range of vuvuzela horns

Clinton Currie plans to sell a million colorfully printed vuvuzelas

The idea has taken off. Recent months have seen Currie and his employees at the Vuvuzela Branding Company rush to complete orders for one million printed horns. Most of them will bear the South African flag. Other designs include the flags of the United States, the Netherlands and Australia. All of them are made of a robust plastic well suited for use in crowded stadiums.

Others producers have also joined the fray. Today, there's a wide range of horns on the market, from smaller models covered in sparkling stones to larger trumpets hand-painted by local artists. And their prices cover the entire gamut.

According to Theresa Granger, who works at a souvenir shop on Long Street in Cape Town, regular vuvuzelas made from plastic cost about six euros, while fancier collectors' versions decorated with pearls can fetch up to 100. Granger said she has been selling about 20 horns a week over the past few months. They're particularly popular with tourists from Brazil.

South African football fans playing vuvuzelas

Will foreign visitors be able to match the noise produced at South African club matches?

No ban at games

But will visiting soccer fans really be able to take their vuvuzelas into the stadium on game day? Earlier this year, South African media reported organizers were under pressure to ban the instruments from World Cup venues because they were too loud and could intimidate foreign teams.

FIFA officials in Johannesburg have since announced that vuvuzelas are part of South African football culture, and will indeed be permitted in stadiums. Granger is among the many South Africans who welcome the move. "You can't ban it because it is a South African thing" and the event happens to be taking place in the country, she said.

The exact origin of the vuvuzela is unknown. One theory points to the long, thin trumpets made from kudu horns, once used by community leaders to call village gatherings. Later, the trumpets were manufactured from sheet metal - and then, in the 1990s, soccer fans decided to put them to a new use, and plastic models emerged.

"Practice before game day"

Clinton Curries poses with his vuvuzela

Currie: 'We're a noisy bunch of people basically'

It doesn't matter if it's the Kaizer Chiefs playing the Orlando Pirates, or the Mamelodi Sundown tackling Ajax Cape Town - the sound of the vuvuzela can be heard at every soccer match across the country.

Currie doubts, however, that this summer's World Cup games will be anywhere near as loud as normal South African league matches. "The fans that are going to attend don't know how to blow the vuvuzela," he said.

That said, Currie and many other South Africans are confident that most visiting fans will have a good time with the instrument - as long as they practice a little before game day.

Author: Katrin Gaensler/jrb
Editor: Sam Edmonds

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