The vuvuzela is cooking my gees

I suppose it was predictable enough, but I still can’t help being somewhat disappointed by the fact that the entire nation now appears to believe that the vuvuzela is “part of our culture”, and also that this somehow makes it a good thing. If it’s part of South African culture at all, it’s a relatively recent addition to that culture, with widespread use of it dating back only to the 90’s. Even it’s claimed “invention” by a Kaizer Chiefs fan occurred contemporaneously with the emergence of a similarly annoying trumpet at football games in Latin America – in other words, this is not something that South Africans have been using since Dingaan.

But even if you want to assert that it’s now an unshakable part of modern South African culture – regardless of its origins – that still doesn’t make it a good thing. Appeals to culture and tradition are not good arguments. If they were, female circumcision or slavery should also be regarded as laudable. It is what the tradition consists of that makes it good or bad, not how long it has been practiced, or who invented it. And sure, the vuvuzela is not as bad as female circumcision or slavery.

“Not as bad” does not, however, mean good. The vuvuzela is allegedly an essential part of the “gees” (spirit) of the World Cup, and hundreds of thousands of South Africans are blowing it – all the time – to demonstrate that they have this gees. But while they do so, we are all suffering potential hearing impairment, and being exposed to increased risk of colds and flu – during a season in which these are rife in any case.

Alongside these health risks, they diminish the spectacle: teammates can’t hear each other, and coaches can’t pass on instructions except via sign-language. Fans can’t develop witty chants or songs – everything just gets drowned out by this persistent, monotonous farting noise. Yet, most people reading this are thinking that I have no gees.

I have truckloads of gees. As a lifelong football fan, I’m ecstatic that the World Cup is in South Africa, and that I can go to games 10 minutes from home. But there’s little point going to games if you can’t enjoy them, because you need to drown out as much ambient noise as you can with earplugs, and  thereby insulate yourself from the atmosphere of the event. It’s an easy dismissal to label anti-vuvuzela sentiments as by definition coming from people with no gees, but unfortunately, the dismissal mostly serves to identify a prejudice on the part of the vuvuzela fans, in that they are in denial of how irritating the things can be, when used on the scale we’re experiencing at the World Cup.

Among all the World Cup bets I made, there’s one I couldn’t make – but one that I imagine, and fear, may well pay out. And that bet would be that we’re going to have some vuvuzela-rage at this tournament, where some aggressive, perhaps drunken and uninhibited fan keeps blowing their vuvuzela right in someone’s ear, and the victim retaliates in some fashion. For a moment, it almost seemed likely to happen last night, as a beleaguered fan behind me implored the person behind him to stop, to little effect.

Besides the cases of racist or other forms of inflammatory songs and chants at football matches, I haven’t experienced or witnessed that sort of tension amongst spectators before – despite the fact that gees comes with the territory of putting up with he inconveniences of crowds and long travel (for many) in order to support your team. You don’t need a vuvuzela for gees – we’ve gotten along fine without it for quite some time.

In fact, it’s not really part of our culture, is it?

By Jacques Rousseau

Jacques Rousseau teaches critical thinking and ethics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and is the founder and director of the Free Society Institute, a non-profit organisation promoting secular humanism and scientific reasoning.