The vuvuzela: Uniquely African, made in China

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The vuvuzela: Uniquely African, made in China

If those buzzing, honking vuvuzelas are marring your World Cup experience, don’t expect much sympathy from Chinese businesswoman Gua Lili.

Gua’s Guangda Toy Factory in the eastern manufacturing hub of Yiwu has produced and shipped more than one million of the plastic trumpets, whose sound has been likened to a swarm of angry bees. Production is steaming ahead at up to 20,000 units per day.

Chinese media report that up to 90 percent of the vuvuzelas sold in South Africa during the World Cup were made in China, mainly by factories in the provinces of Zhejiang, where Yiwu is located, and Guangdong to the south.

And if you thought the noisemakers would just fade away after the World Cup ends next month, Gua is betting you’re wrong.

“We believe the market for vuvuzela trumpets will expand after the World Cup as people from more countries began to love them,” she said.

Gua, whose factory also makes other plastic noise makers such as whistles, said demand for the trumpets was also rising in China, Europe and the United States, where they’ve most recently shown up at Boston’s Fenway Park, adding decibels to a baseball game between the Red Sox and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Not everyone is a fan, though. Players have been criticizing the noise because they find it difficult to take advice from the bench, and visiting fans have no chance for community singing amid the noise. A French cable TV channel even offers vuvuzela-free broadcasts for all World Cup matches, with the trumpets digitally tuned out.

Defenders include FIFA President Sepp Blatter, Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and masses of South African football fans.

The trumpets were first produced and marketed in 2001 by South African Neil Van Schalkwyk, who still owns the rights to the vuvuzela name. His latest innovation is to sell each vuvuzela with a pair of earplugs.

Chinese companies won the lion’s share of the vuvuzela market the same way they’ve come to dominate industries from sports shoes to DVD players: quality, fast turnaround time and very low costs.

Gua said her company sells vuvuzelas to purchasing agents at no more than 2.5 yuan (36 cents) each, with a profit margin of less than 7 percent. Overseas, they sell for up to $10, she said.

“Now we’re turning our eye on the Chinese market as the domestic demand started to surge in the last a few days,” Gua said.

A sales manager with Letoys in Guangdong province said his company began supplying vuvuzela’s to the South African market several years ago and has since racked up worldwide sales of about $1 million.

“We will continue to produce it as long as there is a market demand,” said the manager, who gave only his surname, Zeng.

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