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Art, Culture

Veld Fire Psychedelics

by Rob Scher / 26.04.2011

Music is pumping out of the Ouma Rusk living room, mounted on the back of a jeep. Between bursts of heat, provided courtesy of flamethrowingvuvuzelas, and a DJ hitting the decks from a hole in the wall of the living room, next to a framed portrait of a tannie, it’s hard to discern dream from reality. For roughly a week each year, people from around the country make the pilgrimage to the Tankwa Karoo to experience Afrikaburn… and it’s happening this week.

Tankwa Town is the name given to the collection of art, people and mutual cooperation that forms the nexus of Afrikaburn. An official regional event of the original, legendary Burning Man Festival in the Nevada Desert, described as “an art festival, promoting the creativity and freedom of expression through building a temporary community of collaborative arts projects, non-commercialism and interaction”. Which provides the perfect impetus to breakthrough the usual boundaries imposed by society, so that walking into someone’s campsite and joining into their conversation or licking hot sauce off a stranger’s nipple in return for a shot of whisky, are considered common practice.


Taking on a landscape reminiscent of Dali’s Persistence of Memory, the arid plains are transformed into a psychedelic Utopia. Some of the country’s foremost design and architectural minds use the opportunity to completely break out of the box of conformity that guides their working lives to produce some awe inspiring desert-art. Previous works by noteworthy set designer, Brendan Smithers, have included the glowing orb of white light entitled, “Wish” – a dome of concentric circles lit at night by a flashing strobe; and last years “Echo” – a twisted tunnel, constructed out of wooden planks, that left you feeling like a trapped Jonah in a whale. As the festival’s name would imply, the pieces are ultimately burned during the course of the week, or at the following year’s event. Finally the whole thing culminates with the burning of “the man” itself, taking place this Saturday night.

“Gifting” is another intrinsic part of the experience. Since you can’t actually buy or sell anything other than ice or coffee, you literally need to come prepared, trade and generally just rely on the kindness of strangers. This is the central non-commercialist culture that defines a “burn”. Anything from a cooling spray of water to ice-cold beers, are exchanged for merely a word of thanks. If you’re thinking this sounds like a great opportunity to benefit off the kindness of hippies intent on giving away their shit for free, then, yes you would be right. But no matter how cynical, when you experience the rampant sharing on that Karoo plain, you won’t be able to resist the deeper and more rewarding feelings associated with “gifting”. And soon you’ll be trying to palm off your precious stuff just to get involved. And if you can locate a greyish stretch tent, somewhere between 4ish and 6ish (the street names running around the perimeter of the circle) sometime during the course of Sunday, you can indulge in a delicious plate of mahala vegetable potjie that our camp will be “gifting” to the community.

Afrikaburn is a beautiful thing. It’s an escape into a transient outdoor community that offers a radical alternative way of being. Yes, it’s also a Disneyland for psychedelics but it’s also incredible enough to experience without the aid of mind-altering substances. It’s an attempt to temporarily glimpse into a Utopian society, with far too many sights, sounds and experiences to try and capture in the space of this article. See you over the next few days in Tankwa Town.


Afrika Burn


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  1. Redfoot says:

    Nice overview, but not quite right on the ‘gifting’ part. There’s no barter, no trade, no exchange involved. It’s purely giving, with no expectation of receiving anything in return. Which is something quite different from trading. Try it, it’s radically liberating.

    And there’s no coffee for sale, as far as I know. Ice, yes – because how else can you keep your cocktails frosty in the desert?

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  2. Luz says:

    The Orb for me is a profound concept.

    I think it’s intresting how it becomes some sort of bulb there in the middle of the dessert.

    And to just burn it down afterwards – blasphemous !

    I liken it to having an abortion.

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  3. SkaZ says:

    It seems (from afar, since I’ve never been) a truly amazing experience.

    I have a few questions, however.

    How can AfricaBurn charge SO much entrance?

    Predominantly trance parties,but this may be extended to music festivals of a broader scope, accomodate the costs of land and equipment rental, dj’s/musicians, decorations, clean up crews and toilets, and still their entrance cost amount to less then Burns does. For a community that is all about the goodness of ‘giving’, and considering that AfricaBurns owes a lot to the participation of its partygoers, I simply can’t understand how they are able, and willing to justify charging up to R650.00 entrance.

    Moreover, with the number of participants increasing every year, surely the profit produced by sales each year should be steadily rising as well. I don’t know if I’m making my point very clearly, but it seems that the unspoken note of AfricaBurns is that its for people with money (more then enough money), although this ‘commercialism’ is dis-allowed at the event itself.

    Does that not seem hypocritical to anyone. Elitist even, and if that is the case how can such claims be so easily wavered in light of AfricaBurns proposed ethos of ‘community’ and ‘giving’.

    Like I said, I’ve never attended Burns. I tried desperately to do so this year, in fact I went as far as buying small gifts to donate to the crowds, and organising a lot of goods to be baked (with some special ingrediants as it were). In the end, I wasn’t able to make it and out of desperation, donated my goods to the group I was no longer able to be a part of.

    It struck me as a sad fact that I had done much to be there, and yet was not able to do so because I hadn’t the right ‘finances’. My experience of AfricaBurns thus far was that I gave, and gave, and got nothing in return. Not even the chance to be there.

    I was wondering if anyone else out there had contrary experiences to the ‘Burns’ ethos, because it seems to be that the giving only starts once you can fork out about R2000.00 at the least, and that this giving doesn’t transcend the hyperreal community of the Burn weekend.

    Regards x

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  4. nacnud says:

    SkaZ- Your question is is valid. I’ve often wondered why AB is so expensive, and I have often pestered the organisers, asking them where it all goes. Its a not-for-profit event, so noone is making money out of it. All of the organisers are volunteers, and this year I volunteered to understand it all a bit more. Now its all clear to me, so I’ll elucidate this shit.

    Some people moan about how you get very little for your ticket money. Only a few simple toilets and a venue for R650? Hardly. If you look a little harder, you’ll see where it all goes. All the DPW (the dept. of public works, the hardcore volunteers) food, water, shelter, supplies, timber, wood, tools and more have to be trucked up there. No simple feat of logistics, and trucks aren’t cheap, or free. Neither is food for thirty hard(HARD) working people, the petrol, diesel, and all the other essential supplies they consume while there.
    Then you have the medics. Medics are a vital part of Afrika Burn. Without them, well…I dont want to think about it. But medics arent cheap either.
    Then we have the San Clan structure-the most vital structure at AB. Without it, there wouldn’t be much of a Burn, would there? Thats not cheap either. Imagine how much all that timber costs. Imagine how much the twenty thousand odd screws that went into it cost. Now double that figure. Shit is expensive, and it all also has to be trucked up there, into the dusty wilderness.
    Then, all those art cars, sculptures and general insanity? A lot of that is funded by the ticket money. People can apply for funding before the event. You wont get millions, and you might not get anything, but the money that goes in, comes back out. Afrikaburn perpetuates its own existence by charging money to get in. Without ticket sales, the ONLY source of income for Afrikaburn, there could never be an Afrikaburn.
    Something to bear in mind, that I have mentioned elsewhere before, is that AB is a participant created event. If you seriously disagree with anything, you can change it from the inside, or simply not go. Like most things, in fact. Too many hippies? Then set up a death metal camp. You’re welcome.
    If you cant afford the ticket price, then buy early, or get a low income ticket. But if you cant afford R300, then your problems are far worse than not being able to go to a festival in the desert. This topic came up at a recent AB meeting, and we concluded that almost every burner saves for months to be able to do what we do. I know I do.

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  5. Me Three says:

    If you read this far, you should check this out:



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  6. TheMan says:

    Voilà, it’s now 2012 and the comments up here are old, but AB still charged R700 at the gate. The point is that other music driven festivals all charge less, and actually gives the attendees something for their money, clean sanitary areas, security, music, and all that this entails. Personally I think the statement made by AB on their site saying that the directors didn’t receive anything at first is cleverly said, so they never say that they are non-profit, as they actually do receive money for their time. http://www.afrikaburn.com/about/governance-transparency/are-the-organisers-paid
    Go have a look.

    Modestly in my opinion varies from modest in your opinion. A modest pay cheque for Richard Branson is something on another level. Still it’s marketed as a non-profit event. This is bull! No one works for free, I don’t, you don’t, bread needs to be bought and rent needs to be paid. How big is your flat though?

    In an idealistic world this could work, but sheltering yourself from these facts is exactly the same thing as turning a blind eye to Julius Malema’s expenses. (Cause he said his financials are in good order is enough for me; we can believe everyone all the time right?)

    My wife mentioned that there are people who take the role of Appointed Extreme Protectors of Afrika Burn, who take any comment which does not say AB is the best thing since sex, and responds aggressively. Usually these people are the type who use “like totally” in sentences, and shout ‘Whoop!” when the shot arrive.

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