Johannesburg — South Africa's "Shembe church" says that a deal between it and a manufacturer is about to be finalised over the trademark rights to the vuvuzela, a horn whose trumpeting sound has grabbed headlines through its use during the soccer World Cup.
The Nazareth Baptist Church of KwaZulu-Natal - known locally as the Shembe church - said it is the confirmed originator of the plastic instrument originally made of animal horn.
It is threatening to take other manufacturers to court to stop them making the horn. The church claims its founder Isaiah Shembe was the inventor in 1910 of the trumpet that a plastics factory worker, Neil van Schalkwyk, saw in stands in the 1990s while playing soccer for the Cape Town's Santos club.
In 2001, Van Schalkwyk set up Masincedane Sport, which has since made about 800 000 vuvuzelas - and most recently an earplug kit for soccer fans irritated by the jackhammer-like drone created by the World Cup crowds at the matches in South Africa.
The company has had links with black empowerment initiatives, and has set up a "vuvuzela hotline" to battle workplace corruption, which in turn links up with a service offering "black dating", among other things. Van Schalkwyk told ENInews he was not familiar with the details of the deal, other than that the Shembe "trust fund" was involved.
Shembe and Masincedane appear to have joined forces as other manufacturers - 478 from China and Hong Kong and 27 others in South Africa - cash in on the ballooning demand, and debate rages over the origin of the instrument.
"We have the right to choose a partner [Masincedane], and to close other companies manufacturing the vuvuzela. They've taken that instrument from our members and converted it into plastic as a quick way of making money," Shembe spokesperson Enoch Mthembu told journalists. He said that church members who make the horn have lost income, and the church has threatened sponsors such as the Coca-Cola company with boycotts should they continue to use it in their marketing. The church is said to have 4 million members.
"They must stop placing orders with these Mickey Mouse companies who are opportunists. They are going to lose a huge market." He referred to "fong kongs", a local term for counterfeit goods imported cheaply from China.
Others are claiming that versions of the vuvuzela have been used all over the world, including in the 1950s at rugby matches in South Africa. One maker traces it to a Chinese basketball team decades ago, and the use of the instruments at carnivals in New York and Quebec, Canada has been noted.
Nevertheless, the vuvuzelas' use has spread globally and to other sports. Manufacturers are now waiting to see of world soccer governing body FIFA will allow them at the next World Cup in Brazil, in the face of complaints from players, fans and spectators.