SA pilgrims bring vuvuzelas to pray

2010-07-05 10:16

Barefoot and dressed in white, thousands of pilgrims gather on a

hilltop overlooking Durban, blowing on long metal “imbomu” tubes, forerunner of

the vuvuzela.

Every year, faithful from the Nazareth Baptist Church make a

pilgrimage to Ebuhleni Mission, where their church’s founder Isaiah Shembe lived

in the southeastern part of the country.

Pilgrims will make the journey over the course of the month to walk

along the dirt roads of the poor settlement that lies within sight of Durban’s

World Cup stadium.

This year’s pilgrimage is especially poignant, coming as the church

is finalising a deal with the manufacturer of the plastic vuvuzela trumpets that

now symbolise South Africa’s World Cup.

Under the agreement, Shembe will be recognised as the inventor of

the vuvuzela, an instrument his followers say he created a century ago using

antelope horns.

“We saw Bill Clinton blowing a vuvuzela in a stadium. It makes us

very proud. It is good for the church,” says Enoch Thembu, spokesperson for the

evangelical church which claims 5.2 million followers across southern


The pilgrimage in their holy month of July is far removed from the

World Cup celebrations in Durban, where surfers and bikini-clad fans watch games

on jumbo screens on the beach to the relentless drone of vuvuzelas – a noise

seen either as joyous or maddening.

In this settlement, the sound is harmonious.

“It’s all in the blowing,” explains Thembu.

“We don’t blow it for 90 minutes when it is a soccer game. You have

to stop and you sing. Then you give the opponents the time to play their song.

It must entertain people, not irritate them,” he says.

To the sound of hymns accompanied by imbomus, the pilgrims known

simply as the Shembe enter a field dominated by the statue of their founder,

considered an African Messiah.

Men with walking sticks and women in traditional hats or white

veils erupt into cheers at the mere glimpse of one of Shembe’s descendants

behind a window.

Mixing Christianity and African traditions, the Shembe base their

beliefs on the Old Testament. They practise polygamy, and they avoid pork.

Sex is forbidden during the pilgrimage, as is medication. Any

ailments are treated with prayers, water and Vaseline.

Despite their traditional beliefs, the Shembe have big ambitions

for their newly recognised claim to the vuvuzela.

They want to claim intellectual property rights to the instrument

and cash in on its manufacturing.

“Our aim is to make jobs for South African workers and to generate

some income for the church to look after the widows, the orphans and the

destitute people,” Thembu explains.

According to him, South African firm Masincedane Sport made at

least 60 million plastic vuvuzelas before the World Cup, and the Shembe want a

small slice of that pie.


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