In a normal year at this point, we’d usually be basking in the afterglow of another dusty desert experiment. Sharing photos, swapping stories, and wondering if it was all just a dream. And at this time, half of our team would be back in Cape Town, furiously planning a Decompression – while the other half consisting of DPW and Leave No Trace volunteers would still be in the Tankwa, stalking the last hard yards making sure Tankwa Town is restored back to its natural state of being a windswept patch of Karoo.
But these are not normal times personally, socially or globally. And, though we obviously could not gather in the dust this year, we’re proud that a small core of our team created a fantastic online gathering of our family: HomeBurn! It was our first ever online AfrikaBurn event, and it was created in the spirit of inventiveness, experimentation and resilience in the face of adversity that we as a community are so familiar with. To all that participated in HomeBurn and made it happen, thank you!
Since then, much of our team’s energies have been focused on working hard in order to update you and let you know where we are.
Where we’re not, is a place that could be described as ‘business as usual’, or where we’re carrying on regardless. Rather, our energies have been engaged in a process of digging into deep thinking about ways our AfrikaBurn organisation can continue to provide a platform for its community and culture in the face of the present Covid-19 scenario, and everything that may lie beyond it.
Resilience, resourcefulness and reconnecting: these are always on our mind, and they were very much on the agenda during discussions at the recent Bosberaad, which is our annual post-main-event gathering. It’s when Members, ex-Members, interested and often highly engaged volunteers, as well as the team that work on AfrikaBurn events, and the Directors, gather to dream and plan – and this year it was brought forward to this past weekend (23rd and 24th May), from its usual July date because times are challenging and there’s much to discuss. This time round, the Bosberaad involved two solid days of discussions around various scenarios that could play out in the short to medium term, and how the organisation and community can survive the immediate challenges whilst building resilience into the future, in order to continue enabling creativity whilst inventing the world anew.
On April 1st we published our follow-up announcement ‘Refunds & Cancellations – What Now?’ to provide you, our community members, with a clear understanding of the factors that led to the cancellation of our 2020 event. An important portion of that announcement also covered the position that our organisation was in, in terms of refunds – and at the time we indicated that our team were exploring every option available to secure these for ticket holders. Under the present circumstances, with the Covid-19 pandemic a growing and significant factor that is affecting all of our personal circumstances and finances, our team remains determined to pursue every possible way that we can deliver on our plan.
That so many of you took the time to read through the information provided on our previous announcement is really appreciated. For our team members to receive messages of support via email and social media from so many community members, at a time when cancellation was still fresh and painful, was really heartwarming. To get such positive feedback on what was (let’s be frank) really kak news has given everyone involved a keen and rewarding sense that our community are behind our plans to keep the ship afloat so that we can all sail into the desert again, and continue to do good shit in the world, when circumstances permit. If you haven’t yet read our previous announcement, please do take the time to check that out: it’s helpful in understanding the context of the info and details provided below.
What Has AfrikaBurn Done Regarding Refunds Since April?
The minute it became clear (on March 12th) that our 2020 event was to be cancelled, we alerted our ticketing agent, Quicket, asking them to send word to our insurer to log a claim on our event insurance policy. We received a response from the insurer on 18 March. It was not the news we wanted to hear; they stated that they would not honour the claim.
Our local legal advisors, who served a letter to the insurer outlining the basis of the claim, gave their opinion on 25 March that they thought we had a case, and recommended obtaining legal opinion from the UK, as the insurers are UK-based. They sent it on to their contact, who generously provided her time free of charge, and on 8 April gave us her informal opinion that while the claim had merit it was not clear cut.
Simultaneously, we also reached out to the Burning Man Project’s legal team for UK contacts, which provided us with a second (generously discounted) opinion, and we began looking into the UK financial Ombudsman as another possible avenue for remedy, should that be necessary.
Where Are We Now? Are We Any Closer To Refunds?
Frustratingly, we received correspondence from the insurer’s loss adjuster in response to the letter sent by legal counsel, that they had again repudiated the claim. However, they had also detailed the basis of the repudiation and quoted the specific exclusion and factors that led to their conclusion. With this information clearly outlined, we have been able to identify the assumptions that underpin the repudiation and address these with factual data.
We also received permission to engage directly with the loss adjuster to ensure that any questions of clarity could be resolved quickly, without having to rely on third parties to represent AfrikaBurn’s position accurately. The loss adjuster has received our response and request to review the claim in light of the additional information provided, and we hope to have a response returned within the next couple of weeks.
While we hold hope that the response will be positive, we also know that there are no guarantees, and so we have identified what the next step might necessarily be – and in line with our stated aims of getting our ticket holders the positive relief that we believe they deserve, we will continue this until we‘ve exhausted all avenues that are within our means to pursue.
So this is where we’re at – in the difficult position of really wanting to give you good news on refunds, but unable to do so until the outcomes of the processes described above are known and can inform the choices available. That said, our team are considering a variety of models that have been implemented by other events affected by Covid-19 related cancellations, and as soon as the ongoing processes related to our event insurance have been concluded, we and our ticketing agent will make an announcement regarding the options available.
We Want Your Input And Feedback On Refunds
AfrikaBurn is a community and your input is vital – and it was great to engage in the online Town Hall. However, without a complete picture nor final outcome from our insurers, still, we are not in a position to give a definitive answer on where to from here regarding the ticket situation, nor would we want to make false promises to our community. So we’re asking you to complete this survey so we can better gauge individually and collectively where people are at.
You may have seen our donations drive – and we thank those community members who have come forward wishing to donate to the organisation because they were late buying their ticket. It’s this community spirit and generosity that gives us all hope that the AfrikaBurn experience will rise from the dust again, as soon as circumstances permit.
To provide input and feedback:
Click here to fill out our Tickets & Refund Feedback form.
(please note this Feedback Form opens on May 28th and closes on June 25th)
What Are The Plans For AfrikaBurn Now, And Into The Future?
This last weekend of May 23rd and 24th, our whole organisational team came together (online from their own homes) for the annual Bosberaad. It’s the first time we’ve had to take our thinktank all online and in respect of the urgencies and uncertainties we are all faced with at this time, the Bosberaad was held much earlier in the year to discuss the pertinent and emergent issues facing the AfrikaBurn community.
Planning For Known Unknowns And Reliable Unpredictability
At the Bosberaad, after some weeks of discussion, the Tankwa Town Futures Exchange – (a working group comprising expert and knowledgeable volunteer community members, and also voting Members and Directors of AfrikaBurn) – explained the quadrant approach undertaken towards scenario building for an incomplete future.
They detailed the discussions, analysis and planning pulled together across four scenarios that take into account the two primary factors – Covid-19 and the economy – that have a direct effect on the prospects of staging AfrikaBurn events, the implementation of social development initiatives we as an organisation and community are engaged with, and society’s adjustments to the new normal.
These are the four Scenarios significantly discussed at this past weekend’s Bosberaad:
Resilience – Covid BAD/ Economy BAD
Gifting – Covid BAD/ Economy GOOD
Participation – Covid GOOD/ Economy BAD
Lekker – Covid GOOD/ Economy GOOD
The plan of action from this body of work is to consolidate a strategic approach to secure the future of AfrikaBurn in a Covid-19 and post-Covid landscape – in other words, planning for business unusual in ways that build resilience into the future that the AfrikaBurn community and organisation share together.
Working into the 4 scenarios provides our organisation with the only way to be as prepared as possible to meet the challenges and opportunities as they unfold over the coming months. We may not have a crystal ball or a time machine – but we are a community that is rightly proud of its ability to adapt, innovate and find ways to overcome challenges – and these are all skills that are now being applied by readying our core working team and wider community.
Reduce, Re-evaluate, Redeploy and Reach Out
Building the scenarios above is all about being ready for whatever the future throws at us – but as far as taking immediate measures that make AfrikaBurn robust enough to survive and continue to deliver on the promise to its community of being an enabler of positive change, much work has been done and is ongoing.
Like so many of you, and the companies and organisations you work for, Afrika Burns Creative Projects (which is our registered non profit company’s name) is faced with an existential crisis: is survival possible? What changes are needed, right now, and under what circumstances could the AfrikaBurn community expect the organisation to function, in order to lower costs, preserve the culture it is founded on and survive in order to respond to changing times and future possibilities?
One thing’s for sure: ‘business as usual’ and ‘normal’ is not the kind of language usually associated with burner culture – and doesn’t inform the changes and responses we have planned. In defining these plans, we have reached out to a wide range of interested parties, ranging from concerned community members that have contacted us, to highly-engaged volunteers wanting to share suggestions, on to the Burning Man organisation’s global network and also our own team members and wider DPW family.
No decision taken ‘by AfrikaBurn’ is quick or made by any one person: we’re by nature a consultative organism; so to those of you that have wondered what the actual hell takes us so long, there’s your answer: it takes a while when a huge family needs to make and agree on big decisions. In this area, thanks for hanging in there and being patient; we really do appreciate it.
What Changes Is The AfrikaBurn Organisation Making At This Time?
A lot, and as mentioned, the process has been exhaustive and consultative, with a working group within the Tankwa Town Futures Exchange taking the time to unpack and consider all and any immediate cost saving measures designed to enable sustainability and survival. These are big, scary and distinctly business-like terms – but as a non-profit company, there are realities that must be managed to the best effect, or else the work AfrikaBurn does in the world wouldn’t be possible. You rightly, as a ticket holder and community member invested in our events and culture, have likely got questions like “What is AfrikaBurn actually doing, to make survival a certainty?”. And questions of that nature deserve answers – and to help fill in the picture, these are the measures already taken, or in the pipeline:
1) Immediately reducing overheads, including salary reductions
This has not been a top-down approach but rather applies across the board. In addition, from the outset of Covid-19’s effects on society in general, some of our team members have gone beyond expectation and come to the party by voluntarily curtailing their contracts for the benefit of the greater whole. Across the whole of our team, salaries have been reduced (whilst recognising and supporting personal circumstances) and our team have applied the available labour mechanisms for short time and lay-offs where appropriate and manageable.
As well as cost reduction mechanisms, we are also ramping up our efforts on a sustainability plan for our office and workshop space. Options being explored include subletting space in both our office area and workshop to organisations and companies whose aims and practices are aligned with our own, and also opening up hot desks to freelancers and creatives that would benefit from the facilities available.
Our team is also involved in a process of reviewing and identifying how our assets, hardware and equipment could be made available for hire, and plans in this area include opportunities for discounted hire rates to project crews and non profit organisations. Want a hot desk at our office in Salt River? Need to hire a generator, stretch tent or other equipment? Get in touch – we might just find great ways to help each other in challenging times. It all adds up to a future in which more will be possible, through collaboration and creativity.
2) Relief Funding Opportunities and Resourcefulness
Like many organisations at this time, ours is looking at new ways to generate income in order to stay afloat and ride out the uncertain short-term future we all face. Though as a Non Profit Company our organisation is excluded from many Covid-related relief packages provided by government and other sources, our team have sought and applied for those relief funding opportunities that the organisation does qualify for. In some cases, certain funding mechanisms applied for have had deadlines as recent as last week, and our team awaits word on those outcomes.
3) Redeployment and Ramping Up The Dignity Project
Many members of our community have asked about the status of our DPW crew, who as many would know, were almost about to haul out to the Tankwa Karoo at the time our event was cancelled. DPW numbers around 100 people under normal circumstances around event time, which meant that cancellation was a blow for a great many people who are at the core of our wider AfrikaBurn family. In acknowledgment that the lack of an event this year would make for harder times than usual, we have honoured members of this crew with a partial payment to those whose livelihoods are reliant on the annual opportunity to be part of our work crew. Our ties to DPW, as a community and especially as the working team, are as strong as ever and as the AfrikaBurn family, we have sought to take care of this key crew whose role and hard work are fundamental to the experience that so many thousands of people have enjoyed in Tankwa Town over the years.
For some DPW members, the challenges of personal hygiene in a Covid-19 world have presented an opportunity to escalate work that The Dignity Project is engaged in – and it’s DPW’s expertise in the fabrication, deployment and maintenance of toilet units and wash stations that has come to the fore in rolling the project out, whilst providing those team members with an income.
Having built and rolled out a number of toilet and wash station units (made using the same toilet components that are used at our main annual event in the Tankwa) in the Observatory area in Cape Town, The Dignity Project is generating interest from various local community-based organisations and non-profits, and these include The Triangle Project and Streetscapes. Plans are afoot to try and reduce costs of fabricating the toilet and wash station units, in order to enable a greater number of civic and community-based organisation to purchase the units and deploy them in areas of Cape Town where a need has been identified. To make this possible, The Dignity Project team are consolidating a fundraising drive designed to lower the cost of production in order to make it possible for all communities that have requested support to receive COVID-19 mitigating wash stations.
What About AfrikaBurn’s Commitments in the Tankwa Karoo?
It’s a reality that the movement of many thousands of members of our community to and from our event site in the Tankwa Karoo has a positive economic impact for many small businesses in the region. Equally, since our event began, we have developed strong ties with the local Tankwa Karoo community – and none more so than the folks at Stonehenge Private Reserve, the home of Tankwa Town since 2007, and with Elandsvlei Primary School, which is located on a farm neighbouring our event location. These communities, possibly even more so than other areas in South Africa, are severely disadvantaged and under-resourced. For Elandsvlei Primary, the absence of our event this year is a very real threat to the well-being of the kids that attend the school there, because the school relies on the annual donations of dry goods and food made during Collexodus by you, our community members. Those donations usually feed the learners for an entire year! But of course…our event could not happen. And neither could Collexodus.
It’s with this in mind that we’re exceptionally grateful to Stonehenge co-landowner JP de Villiers for spearheading the fundraising drive to replace our community’s gift of Collexodus – and the money raised will help provide fresh vegetables from a Tankwa farmer, when the school opens again on June 1st. This supplements the approximate R5,60 (from event tickets) per ticket this year or R40,000.00 committed by our AfrikaBurn Outreach programme to the feeding scheme for the 40 farm school learners, and by extension their families.
(extra loud shout-out to JP De Villiers for the almighty trickster switcheroo he pulled off live from the Tankwa on a video stream, in which he made an excellent example of the concept of ‘fake news’ by convincing a great many of our community members that The Mighty Bench was burned. If you were one of those who fell for it, and were upset that such an iconic artwork and sunset perch had been torched, you should probably find out more here)
What Is AfrikaBurn’s Team Working On At This Time?
As our team continues to pursue the best outcome in terms of refunds, we work on, planning a range of necessary activities related to the forthcoming move of all event infrastructure presently stored at Anti-Climax (which is the name of the storage yard located 1km from the Binnekring on Stonehenge Private Reserve’s property) to our new event location, Quaggafontein, which is 30 kilometres south-east of Stonehenge as the crow flies. To make this possible, a slimmed-down team of DPW and core AfrikaBurn team members are planning the best way to achieve this at the least cost, and at the appropriate time that lockdown regulations allow.
As with the move of our stored event infrastructure (which includes shipping containers, stretch tents, solar panels, road safety and street signage, street lights, all 160+ toilet units along with their related components and the off-take remediation dam we use to convert toilet contents into manure, and a kakload of other items too numerous to list here), so too any plans for the activities related to Quaggafontein are also conditional on lockdown regulations.
These activities include, where possible, the designing of the layout and town planning required for future burn events, and also collaborative initiatives on the new site such as ecosystem restoration, the development and installation of renewable energy systems, assessments of historic and archaeologically significant deposits and artefacts and more (as detailed on the pages of our Land website). At this point, everything in this area remains in limbo until such a time that Covid-19 regulations ease to the extent that our team are able to undertake activities, and travel, to take these next steps on AfrikaBurn’s journey. And like so much we do, you are invited to join us on this journey, once it becomes possible. Keep an eye on our Land website – there are numerous amazing photos from shooters Simon O’Callaghan, and also Jonx Pillemer, as well as blogposts and info explaining the many plans and activities in store.
Beyond these areas of planning, the team that staged HomeBurn (our first and wildly successful online AfrikaBurn gathering) are now planning the next digital burn experience, which is framed as something of a Decompression for HomeBurn – which is why it’s named eCompression. Keep an eye out for news on that: it happens online on July 4th, and will be another wide open invitation for us all to connect and collaborate.
Thank You – Keep An Eye Out For Updates
Until then, stay safe and take good care of each other, and the planet to which we all owe a great debt of gratitude. We miss you, and the magic we make together – but we have a feeling that soon enough, we’ll be close enough again to set something alight.
To view our update of August 4th, in which we offer our ticket holders options to select from, please take a look at our 2020 Tickets – What Are Your Options article.