Love them or hate them, the vuvuzela horns are the real anthem of the 2010 World Cup, and they are being staunchly defended against critics by South Africans - including a leading church figure. Trevor Grundy reports.
The captain of France's national team, Patrice Evra, is said to have blamed it for keeping his team awake at night and contributing to a poor performance - a goalless draw against Uruguay - at the start of the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament in South Africa.
Still, in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh earlier in June at the 2010 world mission conference, South African church leader and president of his country's council of churches, Tinyiko Maluleke, praised the vuvuzela, a stadium horn that is about one metre long and makes a loud noise.
The University of South Africa theologian notes that it is an instrument that tens of thousands of his countrymen and women are blowing night and day during one of the world's biggest sporting events. Maluleke describes the vuvuzela as a missile-shaped weapon forcing the world to wake up and acknowledge Africa's past sufferings.
A website, www.banvuvuzela.com, launched to gain support for banning the instrument during the 2010 World Cup had, by late on 14 June, 74,849 people signed up in support of getting rid of the instrument, whilst 8,362 said they wanted it to remain.
The vuvuzela has come under criticism from some fans, team members and international media since the 2009 Confederations Cup took place, also in South Africa. Issues have arisen about the vuvuzela's ability to cause permanent hearing loss, as well as an inability for soccer staff on the touchlines to communicate effectively with their players on the field.
In an interview with ENInews, Maluleke said, "In the 19th century, white missionaries sided with colonials and gave blacks the Bible, while they took the land. Now, we have created the vuvuzela, which is one of the most obnoxious instruments: very noisy; very annoying. It will dominate the FIFA World Cup. I see the vuvuzela as a symbol - as a symbol of Africa's cry for acknowledgement."
In an article published on his own website (www.tsmaluleke.blogspot.com/) the South African church leader further defined the vuvuzela as, "that pre-historic-looking plastic gadget that resembles, in part, a modern trumpet and the 'traditional' animal horn used to announce and to summon."
He notes, "While it may not be huge improvement on the tonal dexterity of the prehistoric animal horn, it definitely delivers a lot more decibels - enough decibels to pierce the eardrum of a European man, woman or child. We know this because 'expert researchers' have found this out for us."
Maluleke told ENInews that some Christian missionaries had deprived black people of their culture. "We see it when Africans are embarrassed to be African in their own vernacular language, to relate to their culture positively: the schizophrenic relationship that Africans have to their traditions, their culture, and their religions."
South Africa's Mail and Guardian newspaper reported that the vuvuzela is common in neighbouring Botswana, where it is used at worship services as well as by political campaigners.
The newspaper quoted one Botswana church member, Jacqueline Chireshe, explaining, "The vuvuzela is a biblical instrument; it is a trumpet, and God expects us to blow the trumpet in offering praise to him."
In 2009, members of the Nazareth Baptist Church, an African initiated church founded in 1910 by Isaiah Shembe, claimed they owned the copyright on the instrument, and considered legal action to stop the controversial plastic trumpet being played at the 2010 World Cup. The bid failed.
Every year, followers of the Shembe Church undertake a pilgrimage walk barefoot to the holy mountain of Mount Nhlangakazi, north of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, accompanied by the piercing note of the vuvuzela, which they consider a religious symbol, and not something to be blown during football matches.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]