/ 8 January 2010

Vuvuzela creator blown off?

It used to be visible only at ­football matches, but the metre-long horn known as the vuvuzela has grown in popularity beyond South Africa, thanks to the World Cup finals set to kick off here in June. But just who is cashing in on the South African-turned-global phenomenon?

Popular Kaizer Chiefs supporter Freddie ‘Saddam” Maake, who claims to have created the instrument, is an angry man and feels sidelined from the lucrative spin-offs of his ‘hard work”. The Mail & Guardian caught up with the colourful 53-year-old football fan at his home in Tembisa this week. He vows the rights of the vuvuzela belong to him and went on to put up a convincing argument for why he should receive royalties from all the companies that produce the horn.

Finding Maake’s house is not difficult, even in the crowded suburb of Tembisa. It is the one with a giant Kaizer Chiefs flag at the gate. Resplendent in the gold and black colours of his beloved club, Saddam welcomed the M&G team into his home. The lounge resembles a football museum, dominated by Amakhosi artefacts, which include more than 200 helmets, known as amakaraba, all types of vuvuzelas, flags, scarves, posters and pictures. Even his giant flat-screen television beamed the 1988 Bob Save final between Orlando Pirates and Chiefs.

There was no time to admire his fine collection as he quickly pulled out a folder that explains his long relationship with the controversial instrument. ‘They may steal my idea [the vuvuzela], but Saddam Maake is a football brand,” he says as he lays out dozens of photographs on a coffee table covered with a Kaizer Chiefs tablecloth.

He points at the first picture taken in the 1970s, of him holding a long aluminium vuvuzela. ‘This is the father of all the vuvuzelas you see today.” Maake says the instrument was banned from the stadium as authorities ruled that it was a dangerous weapon. He admits to having used it once or twice in scuffles with rival fans and feels the ban was justified.

The common denominator in all the pictures on the table that trace his journey from Kaiser Chiefs matches in the 1970s and 1980s to South Africa’s readmission to international football with the ­
4-1 loss to Zimbabwe in 1992, as well as to the 1996 (South Africa) and 1998 (Burkina Faso) Africa Cup of Nations, is that he is the only supporter holding a vuvuzela.

He moves to his most prized ­photograph, taken at the 1998 World Cup finals in France after he was funded by Coca-Cola to travel with Bafana Bafana as they made their debut appearance at the global extravaganza. ‘As you can see, the French were amused by my invention and surrounded me everywhere I went.”

There are many other pictures, including one of him teaching Orlando Pirates’ number-one supporter, Mzion Mofokeng, how to blow the horn. All tell of a man with a long history with the instrument.

‘This is my invention and it saddens me that other people are benefiting from all the suffering I have endured in popularising the vuvuzela. I was locked up for 20 minutes at the airport when I insisted on flying to Zimbabwe with my vuvuzela in 1992. I was determined to blow it as I boarded the plane, because it was the first time I flew.”

He says the pictures may only show him with a vuvuzela as late as the 1970s, but Maake claims to have made his first horn in 1965. ‘I started with an old bicycle horn that used to have a black rubber. I removed the rubber and blew it with my mouth.” He pulls the old horn out of his bag to collaborate his story.

Maake says he tried hard to find a manufacturer for the perfect vuvuzela. In 1989, after his aluminium piece was banned, he met Peter Rice, who owned a plastic-manufacturing company. ‘Peter helped me a lot because he agreed to make a plastic version, but it was still too short for my liking.” He joined a pipe to make it longer. In 1999 he chose to market ‘his invention” with a 10-track album named Vuvuzela Cellular, which features the horn prominently in most of the songs.

Maake’s anger about his loss in earnings is directed at Neil van Schalkwyk, the co-owner of Masincedane Sport in Cape Town. He accuses the 36-year-old businessman of ‘short changing” him after an earlier undertaking to share the proceeds. ‘He is making a killing out of my hard work while I starve,” says Maake. Masincedane has gone into partnership with a German company to produce the vuvuzela ahead of the 2010 World Cup. ‘Journalists from as far as England and Mexico have visited me here and say that I should be rich, but look at me.”

The father of nine still lives in a rented house in Tembisa and survives mostly by selling his 1999 CD at football matches.

‘The most I have received from Neil is R2 500 back in 2004 and he tells me that there is no money whenever I contact him.”

Maake says, as a poor man, the government and legal system have let him down. ‘All the lawyers that I have approached abandon me after they meet Van Schalkwyk.”

But Van Schalkwyk told the UK Guardian that he had not made any promises to Maake. ‘No agreements were made in terms of him getting a royalty for every vuvuzela ever produced. That was never on the cards.”

Masincedane Sport also claims to have developed the vuvuzela itself after it came across a tin version.

Van Schalkwyk said Maake was the least of his worries. He had invested his house and life savings in the vuvuzela business. ‘There is a misconception that the vuvuzelas on the streets are all from my company. I can tell you now that they are being produced en masse in Asia and we are not being protected from these predators. Even local companies employ agencies to source branded vuvuzelas on their behalf, who, in turn, run to the Asian market,” he said.

The question of who owns the rights to the vuvuzela appears destined to remain unanswered until well after the World Cup — when it will be irrelevant.