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AfrikaBurn is back

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A ‘temporary city of art’ in the Northern Cape

The Dung Beetle Project at AfrikaBurn 2018. Picture: Jonx Pillemer

In less than a week, thousands of visitors from across the globe will descend on the Northern Cape for the AfrikaBurn event, which is hailed as a “temporary city of art”.

Described as a “participant-created movement and experiment in decommodification, creativity, self-reliance and radical self-expression”, AfrikaBurn opens its gates on Monday.

The event has been running since 2007, with all events to date held on an isolated private farm called Stonehenge, which is adjacent to the Tankwa Karoo National Park, with no phone signal, no fuel stops and very few signs of humanity

It is based on the Burning Man festival held annually at the Black Rock Desert in Nevada and is currently running into its thirteenth year under the theme “Ephemeropolis” . . . referring to the word Ephemerality (from Greek ephemeros) – the concept of things being transitory, existing only briefly.

AfrikaBurn is the result of the creative expression of a community of volunteers who, once a year, gather in the Tankwa Karoo to create a temporary city of larger-than-life artworks (many of which are burned towards the end of the festival in spectacular fashion), theme camps, including a post office, coffee “shops”, a spa, a fancy dress shop and pancake house, over-the-top costumes (and lots of nudity), elaborate “mutant” vehicles (vehicles which come alive as artworks) as well as music and performances from almost every genre.

The event is created through a volunteer culture of the citizens of Tankwa Town. AfrikaBurn’s aim is to be radically inclusive and accessible to anyone.

The touchstone of values the AfrikaBurn culture is immediacy: experience before theory, moral relationships before politics, survival before services, roles before jobs, ritual before symbolism, work before vested interest and participant support before sponsorship.

For those that have been there (veteran “Burners”), no explanation about the event is necessary, while for those that haven’t (virgins), none is possible. It is a little like the Matrix – no one can be told what it is, you have to see it for yourself.

AfrikaBurn is not your traditional arts or music festival – it is a completely de-commodified zone with nothing, but ice, for sale at the event. There are no vendors, no advertising or branding. There is no water, no shops, no bar, no shade and no signal.

It is also not even about a barter economy – it is a de-commodified zone with a gift economy that’s about giving without expecting anything in return.

What is in abundance is sun, razor-sharp stones, thorns and dust-storms in a wide open desert landscape.

Temperatures range from 40 degrees Celsius during high noon to below freezing at night.

Everything needed to survive these harsh elements has to brought in by participants (festival-goers) and again taken away as AfrikaBurn is committed to leaving no physical trace. This includes grey water, organic waste, every single piece of wardrobe and even marks on the ground (oil leaks from cars and fire dumps). There are no dustbins.

While the event is “not for sissies”, participants “voluntarily assume the risk of serious injury or death” and have to bring their own food, water, shelter and first aid to survive a week in a harsh environment. “Hardcore burners” have been preparing for the event for close to a year.

Attendance to the event has grown from roughly 1 000 in 2007 to more than 11 000 attendees expected this year.

Gates to “one of the most creative and inspiring festivals on the continent” open on Monday, April 29, and the festival runs until Sunday, May 5 2019.

Meanwhile, a co-created arts tour to schools, funded by the National Lotteries Commission and hosted by AfrikaBurn and the Northern Cape Education Department, will hit the Province’s Namakwa region this week.

This tour is the fifth foray deeper into the Northern Cape by the Blank Canvas Express, an arts activation that seeks to bring the ethos and culture of AfrikaBurn to the people of the Northern Cape, AfrikaBurn’s host province.

This week, two plastic-powered artworks built in South Africa will be part of an educational roadshow in Namaqualand en route to AfrikaBurn.

The hugely popular Dung Beetle Project, which made its debut during AfrikaBurn 2018, will visit high schools en route to the Tankwa for AfrikaBurn 2019.

Built in the shapes of a dung beetle and a dinosaur, the creations combine green technology with sculpture, and shred and convert plastic into clean energy.

The Dung Beetle Project has attracted a global team of collaborators, including NGOs, universities, municipalities, entrepreneurs and scientists, all working towards a common goal of addressing one of the planet’s most pressing environmental issues – plastic waste.

The project is working with communities around the world to divert waste plastic from landfills and the ocean and turn it into valuable energy.

Tomorrow, pupils at Hoërskool Boesmanland in Pofadder, and on Friday, pupils at Concordia Secondary School will get a special sneak preview of The Dung Beetle’s new partner in green energy: “Plastisaurus Wrecks” on its first ever outing.

The showcase includes a talk on recycling and a hands-on demonstration of the innovative technology, which powers a sound stage. It is a power-producing, fully-operational plastic recycling system that turns single use plastics into diesel and gas.