Afrika Burns

2008-10-16 12:48
It looked like the Bartertown scene from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. About a thousand people scattered in a crop-circle shape across the stony Tankwa Karoo, Bedouin tents clinging like limpets to the earth against the howling desert wind.

The first Afrika Burns festival (this year simply called AfrikaBurn) was held just under a year ago as an offshoot of the legendary Burning Man festivals of the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, USA. While the original Burning Man attracts upwards of 50,000 people a year to the community of performance artists, partygoers, hippies, and denizens of the desert - collectively known as "Burners" - the first regional event in Africa was far more modest. However, there was no shortage of spirit.

Or spirits, for that matter. One camp, the Desert Rose Saloon, made it their mission to get the entire festival wrecked on the cocktails that they served in their frontier-town bar. And never charged a cent for the privilege. Therein lies the ingredient that makes Burning Man and Afrika Burns such special event: there is absolutely no commerce whatsoever. No money changes hands, and no bartering either. Goods are given to friends and strangers alike purely in the spirit of giving. It is an entirely gift economy, and it works beautifully. The mission statement says it best:
"Community offerings range from astounding large-scale interactive art installations, through music and performance installations, all the way down to small quaint interpersonal offerings between fellow participants (the person who kindly offers wet-wipes to all those exiting toilets, a cooling spray from a water filled spray bottle on a hot day)."

The other literature is full of Utopian ideas, including concepts of "radical self-reliance", it being an "invent" rather than an "event". From the safety of an office chair, it all seems scoffworthy. Until you arrive in the freshly minted Tankwa Town, blooming from this arid atretch of rock and sand, and you see it actually happen.

This weekend this festival of extremes happens again, from 16-20 October.

How does it look? I could try to explain the towering structures of fire, the balloon forest, the art cars... but words could never do it justice. Take a look at the pictures and video to get a taste, pack your bags, and prepare to get Burned.

- Watch the video - Surf the gallery

For more info, go to

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