2010-03-01 00:00

A GOOD place to start is with Mlungisi Wosiyana’s explanation of the meaning of the word, that it’s a Zulu verb meaning “to sprinkle — loosely translated it means to add flavour, just as the plastic instrument known as the vuvuzela adds flavour to the beautiful game of football”.

So much for the word, what about the instrument. Where does it come from? There are several claims in this regard.

The Nazareth Baptist Church, commonly known as Shembe, claim to have been using vuvuzelas when dancing during worship since 1910. “The horn, called the imbomu, was originally made from cowhide but is now corrugated iron,” said church spokeperson Enoch Mthembu, speaking in 2004. “Supporters of the former Amazulu Football Club, now the Zulu Royals, started using the horn at matches in 1992.”

According to other sources the Shembe church originally used a long horn made of bamboo called an imbungu, while on the soccer front supporters of the Zulu Royals originally used kudu horns to encourage their team to greater efforts. Later these were replaced by horns made of tin and plastic. Kudu horns were also said to have been used by the Zulus when calling the amabutho (regiments) from their homesteads when mobilising troops. This is in agreement with the website which says: “The ancestor of the vuvuzela is said to be the kudu horn — ixilongo in isiXhosa, mhalamhala in Tshivenda — blown to summon African villagers to meetings. Later versions were made of tin.”

Boogieblast — a company manufacturing vuvuzelas run by Peter Rice — trumpet in capital letters on their website ( The long awaited truth about the vuvuzela. According to them the vuvuzela was “introduced to South Africa as a toy for kids to blow, and hardly got off the ground. Selling the vuvuzela­ proved almost impossible, until the full potential was realised­ by the local soccer supporters”.

“The first prototype was from the United States and changed somewhat for more comfortable blowing and effectiveness. We have researched the history of the vuvuzela, and it follows a trail back to a women’s Chinese basketball team.” However no supporting evidence is given for this statement. Contacted by phone, Rice says that he researched the history of the vuvuzela five years ago and that he found that the Chinese were the first to use horns for sporting purposes. “But you could say it goes back to the Romans.”

According to Carl van Rooyen, a patent lawyer with Spoor and Fisher, Kaizer Chiefs supporter Freddie Maake claims to be the first person to create a vuvuzela, “albeit an aluminum version in the seventies”.

“Maake claims that in 1999, with the assistance of Rice, he produced a plastic version of the vuvuzela,” says Van Rooyen. “He claims that until the late nineties he was the only owner of a vuvuzela and the only user of one at soccer matches. In 1999 he launched an album titled Vuvuzela Cellular featuring this instrument.”

According to another source Maake approached kwaito star Arthur Mafokate to write a song about soccer using the word vuvuzela, which had come to mean “encourage your team by voicing your support” building on the basic meaning to “sprinkle salt or spice on food, etc”. This meaning became transferred to loud vocal support of a team while playing, as the support was seen to encourage or “spice up” the players.

Mafokate duly composed a song, Vuvuzela, all about supporting one’s team, and this song became a hit, further entrenching the use of the word in soccer circles, and giving Mafokate the nickname “vuvuzela”.

So while vuvuzela refers to the loud vocal support of one’s favourite soccer team, it has additionally come to refer to the horn, which is an integral part of this noisy support.

Adding to the history, or perhaps, the general confusion, is the trademark issue. Neil van Schalkwyk, a director­ of Masincedane Sports, a company that has been manufacturing plastic vuvuzelas since 2001, is claiming rights to the name vuvuzela. This has been contested by the Shembe church on the basis that it has been using the vuvuzela since 1910.

However, according to Van Rooyen, no one has done the groundwork required to give effect to ownership of the vuvuzela. “There are no valid patents or designs registered in respect of the ‘musical instrument’ that is now called the vuvuzela. Even if this instrument could have formed the subject matter of a design or patent registration, the opportunity of doing so has long come and gone. The only question now is who, if any, is the owner of the vuvuzela trade mark.”

The records of the South African Registrar of Trade Marks show that there have been 40 trade mark applications filed over the past eight years for the registration of trade marks incorporating the word vuvuzela. One of those applicants is Rice who applied in 2004 for registration of the trade mark vuvuzela in respect of a “plastic trumpe”. His application was preceded three days earlier by one from Masincedane Sports in relation to “musical instruments”.

Among other applicants are Mafokate, who applied for registration in 2003, and a group of German citizens who applied in 2009.

All of the vuvuzela trade mark applications are still pending, says Van Rooyen, so no single party can claim to be the registered proprietor of the vuvuzela trade mark. “Masincedane Sports’ application has been accepted by the Registrar but it would appear that this trade mark is currently under opposition.”

However the website of Masincedane Sports ( uses the letters TM (ie. trademark) after the word vuvuzela. Van Rooyen says that this is probably permissible as they have applied for the trademark. Only if it is registered will they be legally entitled to have an ® added to the word.

Is registration likely? Van Rooyen says that Section 10(2)(c) of the South African Trade Marks Act provides that a mark that consists exclusively of a sign or indication, which has become customary in the current language is not registrable as a trade mark.

“In short, a word that is used by all and sundry to describe a particular thing cannot be protected as a trade mark as the word has become generic.”

He says that as everybody uses the word to describe a type of musical instrument it could be argued that “the trade mark vuvuzela has become generic and that no single party will be able to claim ownership of the name vuvuzela when referring to the musical instrument.”

As to its origins, as far as I’m concerned the vuvuzela is just a good old-fashioned horn, that all cultures have used since time immemorial. I once had one on my bicycle.

• Acknowledgments are due to Professors Adrian Koopman, Mandla Maphumulo and Ndela Ntshangase of the School of Zulu Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg, who supplied information for this article.

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