Why a reluctant patriot loves the vuvuzela

Vuvuzela, anyone? Vuvuzelas on sale in a shopping mall in Johannesburg. Photo Tony McGregor
Vuvuzela, anyone? Vuvuzelas on sale in a shopping mall in Johannesburg. Photo Tony McGregor

Driving out of the driveway of the complex in which we live I had to wait for another car to pass along the road. The driver of the car, coincidentally the of the same make and model as the one I drive, gave me a look, you know that look, as if to say, “Where the hell do you come from and what gives you the right to be here, anyway?”

I was puzzled by the look, which really was full of venom. Then as the car passed I noticed the sticker in the rear window. It was of the “Vierkleur” (Four-coloured flag), the flag of the old Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek, the flag adopted as theirs by many of the right-wingers in the new South Africa who have still to get over the perceived loss of “their” country to the largely black majority. My car, in celebration of the 2010 Fifa World Cup, was rather colourfully decorated with the flag of the new South Africa, that reality so much hated and despised (or is it, feared?) by the right (wrong-) wingers! So that was what that glare, that look of naked hatred, was about.

Now I am not by nature a flag-waver, I rather dislike patriotism and really do not approve of nationalism, as my ideas run more to internationalism. So it is unusual for me to drive a car decorated with a national flag, and maybe it's appropriate at this time, when the first Fifa Soccer World Cup on African soil is over, to reflect a little on why I, with some enthusiasm, be it said, decorated my car with the flag, as did many millions of other South Africans.

Our car with the flag decorations. Note the "socks" on the wing mirrors!. Photo Tony McGregor
Our car with the flag decorations. Note the "socks" on the wing mirrors!. Photo Tony McGregor
The "Vierkleur". Photo Tony McGregor
The "Vierkleur". Photo Tony McGregor

The "new" South Africa

Firstly let's get rid of the idea that I might have been saying anything about the superiority of South Africa over any other country. That is not my feeling at all. I have not been converted to patriotism and even less to narrow nationalism. That out of the way, I want to give a kind of potted history of what the flag of the new South Africa (to the older generation like me, the democratic South Africa still feels very new at 16 years!) means to me, and why I so thoroughly enjoyed this World Cup when I am not even a big soccer or sports fan at all.

From May 1948 until 26 April 1994 South Africa was ruled by the National Party, which was essentially an Afrikaner nationalist party, a party of which some members had been openly and vociferously against South Africa joining the war against Nazi Germany, because they had definite Nazi sympathies. I'm not saying all the members were Nazi sympathisers by any means, but there were quite a few who were. This party implemented the apartheid policy, which was a not very disguised fascist policy based on the assumption that the “white” race had a God-given duty to preserve its “purity”, its “identity”, against the other races who also occupied the country.

To maintain the “purity” and the “identity” of the white race the policy was to deliberately deny personhood to members of other races by such demeaning practices as the so-called “Pass Laws” which made it a legal requirement that every black person carry on his or her person at all times a “Pass” which was like an internal passport. Any black person caught without this pass was summarily taken to court, charged and fined, or imprisoned. The police spent a great deal of their time and energy on this.

Policemen checking passes. Photo W.W. Norton & Co.
Policemen checking passes. Photo W.W. Norton & Co.
Apartheid was particularly hard on black women. The anti-apartheid struggle brought out some courageous women leaders, among them Albertina Sisulu, wife of ANC leader Walter Sisulu
Apartheid was particularly hard on black women. The anti-apartheid struggle brought out some courageous women leaders, among them Albertina Sisulu, wife of ANC leader Walter Sisulu
The little girl can sit on the bench, but the child-minders may not - it is reserved for whites only! Photo by Tony McGrath
The little girl can sit on the bench, but the child-minders may not - it is reserved for whites only! Photo by Tony McGrath
Police action against women demonstrating in Cato Manor, Durban, 1959.
Police action against women demonstrating in Cato Manor, Durban, 1959.

Apartheid denied the personhood of people

The other indignity suffered by blacks was the Group Areas Act and its many amendments, which stipulated where what race could live. As the Land Act of 1913 had already divided South Africa into a “white” section (about 87% of the country's surface area) and a black area (the remaining 13%) Group Areas were as defined by the Act were grossly inadequate for the black majority. The 13% designated black was almost exclusively in the poorest and least arable parts of the country. The Group Areas Act effectively made blacks “foreigners” in their own land, doomed to being, in the words of one nationalist politicians, only “temporary sojourners” in the white areas, where they were required as labourers.

The personhood of blacks was further eroded by the deliberate imposition of a second- or even third-rate education. This was explicitly done to prevent blacks from “getting ideas above their station”. Where before black students had written the same examinations as white students, although they mostly had much poorer schools, they now wrote examinations set by the Bantu Education Department, which were noticeably of a lower standard than those written by white students. Even universities were segregated, in violation of the principle of academic freedom.

The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act and the derisively inappropriately named “Immorality Act” made the government the arbiter of who could love whom, who could marry whom. These two Acts were the cause of great suffering and indignity, with the police peeking through curtains and sniffing bed sheets to try to catch offenders. It was all so ludicrous it might have been funny had it not been for the terrible anguish and suffering it caused.

Of course the black majority did not take kindly to all of these assaults on their dignity, all the trampling on their personhood and individuality, this deliberate denial of basic human rights. So to keep it all together the government had to institute draconian measures, like the removal of the right to habeas corpus, like successive “states of emergency” which were in essence the imposition of martial law, like bannings (a person could be “banned” which meant they were not allowed to continue with normal life, could be with one other person at a time, could not participate in any social, political or educational activities that they could not do alone, etc), like indefinite “detention” (i.e. imprisonment) without trial and without access to legal assistance, banishment to remote rural areas.

The "new" South African flag
The "new" South African flag
The "old" South African flag. In the white band in the centre are (from left to right) the Union Flag, the flag of the Orange Free State and the "Vierkleur" of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek
The "old" South African flag. In the white band in the centre are (from left to right) the Union Flag, the flag of the Orange Free State and the "Vierkleur" of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek

The propaganda machine

Since only whites had the vote, the government had only to keep the white electorate happy and in line in order to continue to rule as an elected government. This they did by means of an elaborate propaganda machine which included the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) which in theory was supposed to be a public broadcaster along the lines of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), but in fact this powerful medium was the mouthpiece of the government.

The method of the propaganda was to call anyone who opposed the policy of apartheid “unpatriotic” and “un-South African” and even “communist”. Any disturbances, any protests by anyone against any aspect of apartheid was said to be the result of “instigators” and “communists”. The old South African flag, in which the old “Vierkleur” had a place at the centre, became a central symbol of the government and so was soon associated with apartheid.

When the struggle against apartheid finally won and a new South Africa was to be born, a new flag, at first called “temporary”, was designed and at midnight on 26 April 1994, as the day of the first truly democratic elections were to be held was coming, the old flag was ceremoniously lowered from flagpoles across the country and the new “temporary” flag hoisted in its place.

Whereas the old flag had incorporated elements of the history of South Africa, including the Union Flag of Britain and the flags of the former Boer Republics, this new “temporary” flag was totally neutral, having no link to anything or anyone from the past. I think, largely for that reason, it has been accepted and with growing enthusiasm by most in South Africa.

Certainly flying the new flag, publicly displaying it, is an indication of a break with apartheid.

The new flag was not initially popular with many whites and there was considerable consternation when, after 1994, some people, especially at sporting events, continued to wave the old flag. This was seen as indicating a reluctance on the part of those waving the flag to accept the death of apartheid and the new reality of a democratic, black-led South Africa.

During the past month of the Soccer World Cup the “new” flag has come into its own as never before. I have seen little old white ladies proudly flying it from their cars, young Afrikaners also, and it has been seen all over the stadiums, along with that ugly but loveable plastic horn, the vuvuzela.

Between the flag and the vuvuzela I think the final nails have been hammered into the coffin of apartheid. Now we just need to get rid of the ghost (in Afrikaans the word “gees” can mean spirit, in the sense of World Cup spirit, and ghost) that still lingers, and that might take a little longer.

It is now a struggle between the “gees” of the World Cup and the “gees” (ghost) of apartheid. The vuvuzela might be the thing to blow that “gees” away, as it blew the other “gees” into being!

And maybe that young man with the Vierkleur sticker might smile the next time he sees me.

Zakumi, mascot of the 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup
Zakumi, mascot of the 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup

The results are more than a new world champion!

The 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup (SWC) has generally had a beneficial effect on South Africa. It h certainly profoundly altered some of the self-perceptions of South Africans for the better.

The country has received high praise from many quarters as a result of the success of the SWC. The opening and closing ceremonies were beautiful. The games went off without any hitches. The gloomily forecast crime wave did not materialise – indeed, from accounts in the press now it would seem that crime, which is a problem in South Africa, actually declined during the SWC.

The doomsayers have effectively been silenced. Before the SWC started some British entrepreneurs were proposing to sell “stab-proof vests” to fans comeing to the SWC. These were not necessary, and the image of the country as a violence-ridden place has, I hope, been stilled.

No doubt there are still problems. No doubt the SWC was very costly to host. Perhaps the hoped-for economic benefits will not be as great as expected.

The psychological benefits, though, are in my view, enormous.

Just before the SWC two rugby games were played in Soweto for the first time in history. They were a semi-final and the final of the annual Super Fourteen tournament between rugby franchises in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. Whites flocked to Soweto, most of them for the first time in their lives, and were shocked, astonished, at the warmth of the reception they got there. All the stereotypes of the violence of the place, of the antagonism of the local people towards whites, were dispelled. There are now many stories of the fun white rugby fans had in the taverns near the stadium with new-found black friends. They exchanged cell phone numbers and email addresses, they braaied wors together and drank litres and litres of beer together.

The point of this is that these games had to be played in Soweto because the rugby stadium where they should have been played, the home of the Bulls in Pretoria, had been taken over by Fifa for the SWC.

And then came the SWC itself and the opening concert, and the games themselves, saw stadiums filled to capacity with crowds of all colours and all countries shouting and blowing vuvuzelas and generally having fun together. Just being normal football crowds, not white and black, just people.

South Africa has been changed profoundly. And not only by the massive infrastructure investments either. By the new self-confidence of its people, the new realisation that we can do it, we can be a people together, finding each other and discovering that we are not all that different after all, we all want pretty much the same things. We want a decent education for our children, we want decent work, we want to know that we count.

After 450 years of racial antagonism and mistrust, that is one giant step forward. I just hope we can keep the momentum going.

More by this Author


Comments 19 comments

MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 6 years ago from South Africa

Congratulations with this well-researched hub, my fellow-countryman! You are quite right. We did make a giant step forward. For the 1st time all of us have shared the same fear and hope. Fear for embarrassment and hope for success. Not only regarding our soccer team, but particularly regarding our country. Too many people in this world have a total wrong impression of SA and its citizens – because of negative publicity. Don’t you think Nelson Mandela’s birthday made a final knot in the ‘soccer’-bond, which, I believe, united us for once and for all as a nation? However, unfortunately, and I’m so sorry, I just can’t make a murderer's den of my heart.... I STILL CANNOT BEAR THE SOUND OF the vuvuzela!


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Martie - thank you. I have to agree with you that actually I also hate the sound of the vuvuzela, but I think it has, because of its uniqueness and appropriateness somehow helped with the gees! Actually I even blew one on a few occassions!

Thanks for coming by and leaving such a nice comment. I really do appreciate it.

Love and peace

Tony


mulberry1 profile image

mulberry1 6 years ago

Change is slow, isn't it? But, that's not news. I know when I study any war or revolution, I am amazed to find that even when it ended things didn't always change over night, it took years. Sometimes generations.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Christine - yes change is slow and I think that is why the SWC has been so beneficial. It has I believe given change a help, a bit of a shove. Just hope we can as a country build on that and keep things getting better and not slide back into apathy.

Thanks for the visit and the comment.

Love and peace

Tony


Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 6 years ago

Very, very, very Tony! "I rather dislike patriotism and really do not approve of nationalism, as my ideas run more to internationalism"- Amen Brother Tony! Shout it from the roof tops! I am for all humans! I may even be for some aliens! We absolutely HAVE TO LIFT LIFE UP! Life is even more than "live and let live". We must lift our people up - and - with DIGNITY!


De Greek profile image

De Greek 6 years ago from UK

Tony, you started so depressingly and frighteningly and you ended up with so much hope! :-))

Extremists frighten me, but stupid extremist absolutely terrify me. I hope that your expectations are justified


always exploring profile image

always exploring 6 years ago from Southern Illinois

Can i say amen to what Micky said? I am so glad you wrote this piece, i really never quite understood all that was going on in Africa, i just thought that the white man just came and stole the black man,s land. Tell

us more about Nelson Mandela, i admire him so much, how could they imprison him so long, i know that i should have read more history about the subject, but back when all of this turmoil was happening, i was not into social

injustice, now i want to know and do more, racial problems still exist, not only if Africa, did you hear mel Gibson,s remarks this week?,and to think he made the movie about Christ, what a hypocrite.

Cheers, and God,s Blessing,s


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Micky - you are a sweet and supportive person. Thanks so much! Lifting people up with dignity is what it's all about indeed!

Dimitris - stupid extremists are terrifying, and we have had our share here, for sure! I really hope that we can keep the momentum going. I just saw a report in a newspaper today that a researcher from the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) who, while being somewhat less positive about the economic benefits of the SWC, said the positive "feel-good" factor was worth more than any economic benefits. He said South Africans are more united now than at any time in our history. I pray that he is right!

Ruby - thank you for your comment also! I have written a fair amount on Mndela here on HubPages already. It is his birthday this coming Sunday (92 he will be!) and so I am planning something for the next day or two. Didn't hear what Gibson said, but I don't think to much of his attitude or opinion anyway. I think you have a point about hypocrasy, especially after the way he has handled his marriage, seeing that he claims to be such a devout Catholic (and a conservative one at that!).

Thanks all again for visiting and commenting. Your words make the effort all the more worthwhile.

Love and peace

Tony


Storytellersrus profile image

Storytellersrus 6 years ago from Stepping past clutter

I appreciate (though sadly) the education, Tonymac. You are a realist and yet what you see in South Africa and what you write makes me want to visit.

I have to admit I have difficulty believing organized groups can put down others with such intention, though I have had experiences in my life that validate such behavior towards women. I suppose it is my eternal optimism or perhaps my belief that grace triumphs over all that keeps me smiling?

Even in Nazi Germany there were heroes, after all. Realists like you who believed in human goodness despite all they witnessed around them.

Thanks for your thoughts. I admire you so very much.

Story

PS Perhaps I am not using realist in the normal way. By realist I mean someone who witnesses what is happening and does not deny it. (And yet you rise above it, and move in the direction of the good...)


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Story - your comments are always so thoughtful and helpful, thank you. Apartheid South Africa was so difficult for me as a white person to live in - I don't know how black people lived through it. But all through those dark years I kept meeting such incredibly warm and loving people who kept my belief in the essential goodness of people alive. The World Cup has brought out the best of us all.

Love and peace

Tony


amillar profile image

amillar 6 years ago from Scotland, UK

Tony there seems to be signs of progress there. I think music and sport can be great unifiers - when they're not being used divisively.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Amillar - thanks for coming by and for the helpful comment.

Love and peace

Tony


Rebecca E. profile image

Rebecca E. 6 years ago from Canada

this is aweomse of course I'd expect nothing less. Very lovely. I am stumbling this in hopes for a bit of traffic blessings coming your way!

PS.. check top five presentations if you are wondering =)


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Rebecca - I am honoured by your visit and comment! Thanks so much.

Love and peace

Tony


Storytellersrus profile image

Storytellersrus 6 years ago from Stepping past clutter

tonymac, I can't imagine the feeling of being white during Apartheid. I suppose it would be like living among a majority of white supremacists? Well, that would be exactly it, for I see Wikipedia's definition of white supremacy; "White supremacy is the belief, and promotion of the belief, that white people are superior to people of other racial backgrounds."

I find this interesting because from the beginning of man, it appears that clans/tribes killed each other, believing them to be "not us" which meant dangerous. I wrote a paper on this years ago- on how early man recognized only their own people as human. All others were animals. I suppose this was somewhat based in their ability to communicate with each other and with being rooted in a particular location? I'm guessing...

These remnants of cave man mentality are especially sad considering we can now communicate with each other and discover how much we have in common. And also considering science has been able to dissect people of different colors and trace them back to the same root.

Life is a puzzlement, but happily there are people like you and like Spong who rise above common thought.

Hugs.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Story - life ios indeed a puzzlement, and the challenge and the fun is to be trying all the time to unravel that puzzlement and make some sort of sense out of what seems often so senseless!

Thanks for coming back and making yet another great contribution to the effort!

Love and peace and hugs to you (I love hugging!).

Tony


jandee profile image

jandee 6 years ago from Liverpool.U.K

tony this reminds me of my good friend from south Africa she is black,defined coloured,her husband white. They met when she worked for a well off white(progressive )family when helping with a dinner party.They decided it was for real and made their escape to a British island through forrests and all sort of tribulations and indeed dangers as the year was 1969.They are still very much together in the island with a son .the last time I visited she had a family photograph on the wall with 'Nelson' in the centre,m

P.S sorry for rambling and enjoyed reading.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

Tony - thank you for the history lesson in this informative hub. Now as for your vuvuzela - I thought that I would lose my mind during World Cup. The vuvuzela's constant noise, like a gigantic cloud of angry bees. Then, something started to happen. Strange. I began to become fond of them. The idea of striking nervous aggravation into the opposing team. The idea of so many people blowing those durn horns together like that. The fact that our Yankee Stadium banned vuvuzelas. Maybe that's what did it. I am now the proud owner of my very own vuvuzela.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Maxine - that's not rambling, that's sharing interesting information! I'm so glad your friends made it to safety and are still together. Great.

Dolores - you are most welcome! And I am really pleased that you have succumbed to the vuvuzela!

Thanks both of you for your visits and kind comments.

Love and peace

Tony

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