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Province ready to ‘burn’


The festival is hailed as a “participant-created movement and experiment in decommodification, creativity, self-reliance and radical self-expression”

BURNING: The Temple of Gratitude artwork burns during the 2017 AfrikaBurn Festival. Picture: Facebook

THOUSANDS of creatives from across the globe will descend upon a “temporary city of art” in the Northern Cape next week as the annual AfrikaBurn festival opens its gates today.

The festival is hailed as a “participant-created movement and experiment in decommodification, creativity, self-reliance and radical self-expression”.

The event has been running since 2007 and is held on an isolated private farm called Stonehenge, which is adjacent to the Tankwa Karoo National Park, situated halfway along the R355, a 250km long untarred road between Calvinia and Ceres.

There is no phone signal, no fuel stops and very few signs of humanity.

AfrikaBurn is based on the Burning Man festival held annually at the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, US, which is currently in its 12th year.

Under the theme “Working Title..”, AfrikaBurn attracts a large number of international and local visitors to the Northern Cape.

It 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 costume (and lots of nudity), elaborate “mutant” vehicles (vehicles that come alive as artworks and move in any which way) as well as music and performances from almost every genre at several “theme camps”.

The central icon and effigy of the event, the San Clan, is derived from an image found in San rock art in numerous locations in southern Africa, and symbolises a community as one.

As a regional Burning Man event, AfrikaBurn adheres to the 10 principles of Burning Man, that include radical inclusion, self-reliance and self-expression, gifting and leaving no trace. The 11th principle, “Each One Teach One”, was added to encourage the sharing of knowledge throughout the community, in order to ensure the uptake of culture matches the growth in numbers.

For those who 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. What is known is that you don’t “attend” AfrikaBurn, you “create it” and “participate” therein.

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. 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 be 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, fire dumps etc.) 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.

Attendance to the event has grown from roughly 1 000 attendees in 2007 to more than 12 000 expected at this year’s gathering.

Gates to “one of the most creative and inspiring festivals on the continent” open today and the festival runs until next Sunday.