x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

South Africans seek new use for now-unloved vuvuzelas

Only months after the World Cup, a contest has been launched to find a new career for the equally maligned and celebrated horns that have been largely banned in the world's stadiums.

A vuvuzela light fitting is one of the entrants in a competition to find a product that may help the underprivileged in South Africa.
A vuvuzela light fitting is one of the entrants in a competition to find a product that may help the underprivileged in South Africa.

So, what do you do with your vuvuzela now that it's been banned from pretty much every public event from Wimbledon to the US Open? A group of South African amateur designers hope to save the horn and in so doing, provide jobs for the underprivileged.

The plastic trumpet that became the unofficial symbol of the 2010 Fifa World Cup is now unloved at most sporting events. Tennis fans, who might ooh and aah from time to time, do not want it. Rugby promoters, used to a more robust crowd, also turned it down. And Tiger Woods certainly does not want it anywhere near where he plays.

Even in South Africa, just a few months after the World Cup, the "paarp" of the vuvuzela, which became the unofficial anthem of the tournament, is now rarely heard.

"We see them sticking out of bin bags every day," says Hannes Petrus, a garbage collector. "I used to take them home to my kids, but even they don't want them anymore. They say, 'No, dad, don't bring rubbish home from work'." Old toasters, broken furniture and the occasional microwave are still fair game, he adds. "I can fix those and sell them," he grins.

So it has fallen to die-hard fans, hankering for a return to the heady days of June and July, to revive the unloved beast. A competition has been organised offering a prize of 10,000 South African rand (Dh5,278) for the best design for the alternative use for a vuvuzela.

"The World Cup is likely to be the only 'vuvuzela event', now that they are banned everywhere else," says Shaun McCormack, the organiser of the competition. "It was a one-off phenomenon; the thing that has been."

Hundreds of entries have been received. Designs for an umbrella, or when standing on end, a candlestick holder, are among the entries. Another entrant suggested that they be used as a mouth guard for the Hollywood actor Mel Gibson - one that would retrain the movie icon's verbal outbursts. Some designs could be called "earthy", and would be unlikely to find their way into the family home.

Most of the entries are from within South Africa, but a large number have also been received from abroad.

It is hard to overstate just how pleased South Africans were at the vuvuzela sensation. Like a child who finds his school project unexpectedly praised by a stern teacher, the country was thrilled at its wild reception by foreign fans.

In a tournament characterised by foreign brands, some of which have never graced the shelves of the country's shops, the vuvuzela became the symbol for something truly local. Neither Coca-Cola nor Nike managed to attach themselves to the vuvuzela, and this suited many people just fine.

"It was one of the only things during the event that Fifa did not manage to get its logo pasted on to," says Mr McCormack. "It was something that belonged to us and not the sponsors."

Mr McCormack wistfully recalls the bedlam in downtown Cape Town, where his advertising agency has an office. "We'd hear soccer fans on the street blowing them, and me and the other staff would run to the window, stick our vuvuzelas out and blast back at them."

Vuvuzelas have appeared in adverts, on billboards and been adopted as logos. They have spawned fan sites and blogs. A few have tried to roll back the tide. A Facebook page called "I hate vuvuzelas" boasts a limp 8,000 users, a far cry from the half a million it was hoping for.

In the meantime, some are using it for good. A Cape Town attorney, Werner Bouwer, has co-opted the vuvuzela as a symbol for an anti-corruption hotline called, yes, the Vuvuzela Hotline.

"The traditional concept of a whistleblower has always been associated with a European image of a bobby-on-the-beat," Mr Bouwer says. "We are talking about blowing the whistle in a South African situation. It's far more relevant to call it blowing the vuvuzela."

Since the tournament ended, however, the streets have grown quieter. And local football games, where the vuvuzela is still much in evidence, may also institute a ban. In recent games, fans have discovered the trumpets are wonderfully aerodynamic and make good missiles, hurling them at players and rival supporters alike.

The generously shaped horn is also being used to smuggle banned drinks past security guards at games, say officials. As a result, the days of the vuvuzela may be numbered, even here. Mr McCormack hopes the competition will act as good PR for the instrument.

In rescuing the vuvuzela, the competition organisers also want to help the less fortunate.

"Once the competition is over, and we have the winning designs, we will have prototypes made up, and these will eventually be distributed within underprivileged communities," says Mr McCormack.

Jobless men and women could then copy the designs and manufacture them for resale, possibly to tourists and interior designers. Since a vuvuzela costs only a few dollars, the basic material will be affordable.

With about one-third of the population unemployed, the vast majority of them black, the need for self-help entrepreneurship has never been greater. The competition organisers have no illusions that turning vuvuzelas into lamp shades will alter the situation. Still, a little creativity could have an impact beyond its original intention. At least, this is what Mr McCormack hopes.

"Realistically, we are a bunch of white guys who do not need to make more money," he says. "But there are many, many people out there who need a break."

The prize itself is not an awful lot of money, but the organisers hope that the thrill of seeing their creation improve the lives of others will be added incentive.

"It will be a small splash in the pond," says Mr McCormack. "But we hope to see it become a big ripple".