(words by Kwassi – photos by Rizza Bomfim)
What is AfrikaBurn?
It’s a great many things but the solution to humanities problems it is not. Every year around this time I find myself defending AfrikaBurn. People criticise this festival at every opportunity. The classic, “Imagine how many text books could have been bought with the money used to create AfrikaBurn”. Well yes, a great many textbooks or meals or even homes could be bought with the money used to create the Burn. But would 13 000 people each pay R1500 if there was no festival, if we were just raising money for charity? I think not, in fact there’s nothing stopping you from not buying a Burn ticket and instead donating that money to a more worthy cause.
People complain about the cost of the ticket, it makes the festival unattainable to the average man. This is in fact true to some extent. The tickets are expensive, I myself don’t often have money to Burn lying around, so I save up my money and budget for the Burn so I can afford to go. Not everyone can do this, for many people there are far greater priorities to spend money on and for these people, it is too expensive to go to the Burn. The Burn is about radical inclusion, but it’s not a charity. Anyone who can raise the money and make a plan is welcome, but you gotta find that money first. You see, if you don’t pay for tickets, there can be no Burn. The organisation is non profit and their financials can be seen on the website. There are times when I can’t afford to go but I don’t curse those who can (Well maybe a little but I don’t mean it!). This year was one of those years, but with luck I was gifted a ticket. That is what radical inclusion is about, doing what you can to include others. Nobody can perform the impossible, AfrikaBurn can’t hand out ten thousand free tickets, but there was one person that could give one ticket and she did so, so that one more person could experience the Burn in all its majesty. It’s a community that wants to include everyone but that doesn’t have the means to do so. The imaginary world that is the burn only exists out in the desert, for the rest of the year they must operate under the constraints of society.
What we get for R1500 is out of this world. The amount of time and energy that goes into this event is monumental. It is a collaborative effort but it is also a costly effort. People need to be paid for months of work, materials need to be bought. The money you put in for your ticket is the experience you get out. Let’s put this into perspective. The Muizenberg camping ground charges R130 per person, per night. AfrikaBurn charges R1500 from Monday to Monday, that’s 7 nights or R214 per night. So if we use Muizies camping ground as an example, we only pay an additional R84 per night to be at one of the world most amazing festivals, complete with massive art structures, amazing artists and musicians, mind blowing pyrotechnics and an all round fantastic time. For me this is totally worth it… and I like the Muizenberg camping ground!
Now furthermore, for those that cannot afford a ticket, you can show your payslip to the organisers and if you truly cannot afford the Burn, you will be eligible for a heavily discounted ticket. I don’t see any other festivals offering that option. That being said, there are a limited amount of discounted tickets (General sales are also limited). You see ideally AfrikaBurn would like to incorporate everybody, but without funding the Burn can’t happen.
Now let’s talk about burning money. I have often heard people complaining that the art pieces cost so much money and then they just get burnt. They are art, not just the piece but the burn. If they don’t burn, the artists work is not complete. It’s not just a way of disposing of old wood, there is great beauty in the burns and there is excitement, camaraderie, and respect. They are an experience that touches the individual and brings us together. We fall in love with these structures and it can be sad to watch them burn, but art is meant to evoke emotion. The sadness is coupled with elation, a feeling of new beginnings. All reality is fleeting and ever changing, these represent so many things for so many people. Personally I find them to be soul cleansing. Now let’s look at another wasteful industry… Movies! So you find it immoral to spend so much money to build something that lasts a week and is then destroyed. I’ll bet ya, you watch movies. Movie budgets go into the many millions of dollars and allot of this is used to build props. These are art pieces in their own rights. Sometimes a prop will be kept to be used again but more often than not it is scrapped. All that money spent is down the tube. And for what, an hour of entertainment? Now I know what you are thinking… but there is a movie, something came of all that money, we have a final product! So too is there something gained from the burns. Not just the surreal and beautiful images and videos that bring such beauty ever after, but also the experience of the individual. Something that people can hold in their hearts forever.
AfrikaBurn brings money into the local communities, it creates jobs, it supports charities and it gives and amazing experience to those fortunate enough to attend. To the best of the organisers’ ability, all this is done with minimal impact to the environment. We don’t live in a perfect world, AfrikaBurn strives for perfection but it’s not perfect. It seems to me that the more something strives to be good, the more criticism it gets. There are hundreds of festivals in SA that are far more detrimental to both the environment and society!
So what is AfrikaBurn? It’s an imaginary place. It’s an ideal that cannot exist in normal society. It’s a place where people are free, where people are considerate of each other. In this make believe wonderland our needs are catered for (By our preparation prior). In the real world, every day, we are weighed and measured, we are found wanting. There are expectations of us that we cannot achieve. We are required to look a certain way and fit into social norms. We are required to suppress ourselves. AfrikaBurn is a place of expression. At the burn, you can be the person that you truly are, with no judgement. Your body is sacred at the burn, be it fat, skinny, young or old. Nobody asks why the fat girl is marching with the skinny girls in the Titty parade, because her beauty is seen. It’s a place where there is an electric energy in the air, where a bond is felt between strangers. It is a place of art and beauty; it is a reprieve from society.
Every year we spend a load of money to experience a world without it. I can appreciate the irony here and it’s something I will do every year as long as it continues. If we could figure out a way to make this beautiful experience not cost money, then let me tell you, it would never end. We would make it a permanent society. We would live free. Sadly this is not the case; the Burn is nothing more than a dream. A moment in time that is ever so brief, where the lucky few can experience freedom. A place where all those that got past so many hurdles to get there, can live as a family, can experience the true feeling of being part of a tribe, something that was lost to so much of humanity for so long.
There are a great many things that the Burn isn’t. It doesn’t include all humanity, but it does open its arms for all those that can make a plan to get there, whether black or white, male or female, fat or skinny. It doesn’t stop poverty but it creates jobs and brings money into poor communities. Not all in attendance are good people and not all follow the guidelines but those that are and that do, more than make up for the few bad apples. It’s not perfect but for me it’s about as close to, as one can get.
It’s easy to point out all the things that something isn’t but let’s focus on what it is, and it is Spectacular.