South Africa’s AfrikaBurn festival goes out in flames

The annual AfrikaBurn festival closed in a fiery blaze at the Tankwa Karoo Desert in South Africa’s Northern Cape Province on Sunday. AfrikaBurn is the result of the creative expression of participants who gather once a year in the Tankwa Karoo to create a temporary city of art, theme camps, costume, music and performance, burning structures, costume, mutant vehicles and more.

Created in 2007, the week-long festival is a celebration of sustainability, self-reliance and creativity. It encourages festival-goers to experience life in an environment far removed from their normal routine. It also provides a platform for artists, musicians and performers in every field to display their talent. Everyone who attends is expected to participate in some way.

Over 11 000 people adorned in elaborate costumes, body paint, were attracted to the this year’s festival which is run on 11 guiding principles, one of which is participation.

There is no money at AfrikaBurn. Nothing is for sale and nothing can be bought. There are no vendors, no advertising or branding as the festival touts a decommodified zone that’s about giving without expecting anything in return.

Afrika Burn, ”Everfest” Magazine 2014

Each participant has to bring everything they need to survive, including shelter, water and food. It also means that all the entertainment – from creative shows, DJ performances and art – is envisaged, created and produced by the participants.

For many, watching the spectacle of giant art installations being set on fire is a major highlight of AfrikaBurn. Over the last three nights of the week-long event, massive art pieces were burned, mesmerizing the throngs of people at the event. When the festival is all over, everything is packed up, leaving no trace as the festival also insists that visitors leave no trash behind.

AfrikaBurn takes its name from the continent and has been described as one of Africa’s most unique, unusual and mind-blowing festivals. However, even as its aim to be radically inclusive and accessible to anyone is clearly stated, it has consistently lacked African influence and black participation.

The festival is also affiliated with the Burning Man festival which draws 70 000 participants every year to the Black Rock Desert in the U.S. state of Nevada and although the festival’s principles are commendable, the festival has also been described by goers in their personal reviews as “classist” and “painfully lacking in diversity”, making it, in reality, separatist and completely contrary to its aspirations.