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Vuvuzelas and ladumas

Friday saw the opening of the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. A large proportion of the world’s population will be watching football over the next four weeks. Historian and Capetonian Dawn Nell discusses South African English football/sport terms featuring in the 2010 World Cup.


The World Cup in South Africa will forever be remembered as the time during which the word vuvuzela came to global consciousness. On the day before the World Cup started vuvuzela was a trending topic on Twitter, apparently the first time a South African word has achieved this contemporary apex of global acclaim (or notoriety).

These plastic trumpet-like instruments are as controversial as they are loud. Many South Africans claim the vuvuzela is a uniquely South African addition to football culture, and the periodic rumours that it is on the verge of being banned by FIFA are met with pious outrage in the South African media. But the vuvuzela is not universally popular in South Africa. Some South Africans question the idea that the vuvuzela is an ‘age-old’ African instrument with deep roots in indigenous culture, and point to its possibly more recent origins in the United States. There are also plenty of South Africans who simply object to the level of noise they create.

But wherever it comes from, and whether you like it or not, the vuvuzela is a feature of South African football, and has just been unleashed on the rest of the world. You can read more about the vuvuzela on the Macmillan Dictionary Buzzword page.

There are some other South African words that you may come across during the World Cup: Bafana Bafana – literally ‘the boys’ in Nguni languages such as IsiXhosa and IsiZulu, and the nickname by which South Africa’s football team is known. Madiba is the affectionate name by which many South Africans refer to former president, Nelson Mandela. And Mzansi, which means ‘south’ in Nguni languages, and is an informal way by which South Africans refer to the country.

I think it would be fair to say that the marketing surrounding the World Cup has played a role in reinforcing the presence of these words in South African English, and in bringing them to the notice of the world.

And sometimes the marketing and media demands of the World Cup have created, rather than merely reflected language in South Africa. Witness for example the way in which the phrase waka waka has attained global renown through Shakira’s Official World Cup Song ‘Waka Waka – Time for Africa’. Yet it’s not a term that had been common in South Africa prior to the World Cup, and many South Africans seem unconvinced that it has any genuine meaning. Being told that it’s Kiswahili for ‘be lighted’ or ‘blaze’ doesn’t help to endear South Africans towards the phrase as Kiswahili is not widely spoken in South Africa and, therefore, there is a sense that using the phrase in the South African context is somewhat contrived.

There are also words that South Africans are surprised not to be seeing more of in relation to the World Cup. An example is the word laduma, which is the word South Africans really expect to hear when a goal is scored in a football match. More specifically, we expect to hear legendary sports commentator, Zama Masondo, excitedly screaming LaduuuUUUUUUma! across the airwaves. Because it’s a term he invented, having been inspired by the drawn-out cries of football commentators he’d heard in Brazil. Although it’s a IsiZulu word, and Masondo originally used it in his Zulu-language commentary of football matches on the radio, it’s a word that’s now a hallmark of all football commentary in South Africa, in whatever language. Laduma also subsequently became the name of a long-running sports programme on South African television, which further helped to entrench it in the South African lexicographic landscape. Long after the World Cup has moved on from South Africa, children across the country will still be celebrating goals with a loud drawn-out LaduuuUUUUUUma! But we’ll have to wait a while to see to whether waka waka becomes a similarly enduring feature of South African English.

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Dawn Nell

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