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Vuvuzela Popular Symbol of South African Football

FIFA's 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa is drawing to a close and international football fans have become intimately, and sometimes controversially, acquainted with the Vuvuzela, a raucous plastic horn that has become the country's most popular symbol of the game.

It is raucous, very loud and unmistakable. For some it is reminiscent of a trumpeting elephant, for others a voracious swarm of bees. It is the vuvuzela - a 60-centimeter, brightly colored plastic horn that has become the sound and a symbol of South African football. Its sound has relentlessly dominated the matches of the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup.

International fans who traveled to South Africa for the cup had no choice but to adapt to the noise during matches, but most seemed to have adapted well and commented on how it contributed to a wonderful atmosphere at the matches. Some even bought their own vuvuzelas and blasted along with their local hosts.

Reaction from international broadcasters has been mixed and some complained to FIFA that the noise was too loud and interfered with their broadcasts.

There have been enough complaints that FIFA has agreed to consider requests that vuvuzelas be outlawed at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, also to be staged in South Africa. But FIFA president Sepp Blatter has made it clear he thinks they should stay.

"We cannot say tomorrow morning from now on you don't use that," said Sepp Blatter. "What is that? That is really an interference in a personal right."

Horns, in one form or another, have always been part of football games in South Africa. But vuvuzelas were first manufactured by Neil van Schalkwyk's Masincedane Sports in Cape Town in the late 1990s. He says that international broadcasters might want to consult with their South African counterparts about optimal broadcasting alongside vuvuzelas.

"The South African broadcasters, they have been broadcasting in this type of environment for the past few years, and I think maybe it would be a good idea [for international broadcasters] to go and consult them, in terms of tuning their equipment for this atmosphere," said Neil van Schalkwyk.

Van Schalkwyk notes South African football fans will not look kindly on any attempt to outlaw use of vuvuzelas in next year's world cup.

"I think there will be an absolute outcry should that be the case," he said. "South Africans are very proud of the culture that is created, and the atmosphere that is created by the product and I think South Africans in general would be rather offended if that should happen."

Van Schalkwyk tells VOA the tradition of horn blowing in South Africa is ancient with kudu horns being used for centuries to call public meetings. He says he wanted to base his product on that tradition.

"And we saw there was a demand for some type of noise maker because of the history of sound, of that distinctive kudu horn sound really that had existed in South Africa and we then embarked on developing a plastic version of a horn, that can be able to supply this demand," said Van Schalkwyk.

Van Schalkwyk first named his horn the boogie-blaster, but the name did not go down well with football fans who soon christened it the vuvuzela - a word of uncertain origin which means pump or lift it up, implying lifting spirits. And South Africans will be looking to have the vuvuzela uplift their spirits during the FIFA 2010 World Cup.