AfrikaBurn 2023: 24 to 30 April

They Laughed As Africa Burned

Photo by Brad Osner

(words: Yeldarb Renso / photos: Jess Friedman, Yeldarb Renso)


The idea of 12 friends driving across the country into the desert is a dangerous one. Wednesday to Sunday, 5 days of pure unashamed existing in exhibitionism. Each day with outfits and consumption planned and purchased in advance.  Whisperings of an event so good that it could change our lives forever was just too close to the tips of our tongues. Something along the scale of a fear and loathing expedition. Mind bending, pure hedonism. A psychedelic-soiree into the hot unknown of the Tankwa Karoo desert. Surely nothing could hold up to this buildup?
Before any major event occurs in life, that has some kind of anticipation around it, our mind’s eye will draw an image: a preconceived bit of beauty. A psychological delusion of grandeur. Just think back a bit. Like the time you managed to convince that Spanish girl to come back to your hotel room. While you’re struggling to get the key in the hotel room door, you close your eyes and can’t help smile as you imagine mocha curves to come. How’d that turn out? Or that motorbike ride across Cambodia where you nearly killed yourself to get to the beach, and you’re expecting to find the tropical paradise sold in rum adverts. How was it? Invariably, life nearly never lives up to the expectation so the rule is to rein your brain in; don’t let that image get away from you.
But by god were we right. And yet…no one would ever have dreamed to say it.
AfrikaBurn seemed just too ridiculous to me to be anywhere near the truth: that love has conquered all, and all the chains of a flawed society that we left behind, haven’t actually followed us into the desert!? Can it exist? That the Capetonians have left their egos at the door and that the Joburger’s have spat out their taste for blood somewhere along the 20 hour trip down. My god these crazy motherfuckers may just have done it.
The trip down will test the nerves, you will question friendships. The complexities of couples and intercouple relationships and friends and other will be tested to the max. But its kind of like childbirth: a dangerous harrowing event that is needed to let life begin. Although perhaps some more planning may help, put the cards on the table. Say what needs to be said, make things clear – I’m not taking a trailer: get it in writing.
Do you know that scene from fear and loathing where he’s covering that race in the desert and there’s dust all over the show, he’s kind of fucked so that adds to the confusion and there’s cars and people and sand permeating the cracks. Its kind of like that. Although not really. That’s the best way I can describe the first night we arrived. After the drive I felt like Moses crossing the Red Sea, or some similar biblical fellow that was covered in sand. I put up the tent only to find that I didn’t have a tent cover. Oh well, opened up the deck chair and the taste of that first beer touching the lips. Godly.
After a 20 hour drive, I’m not one to torture myself. I’m off to bed early, but the sounds of the night find their way into my uncovered* tent: a screech of delight from a foreign girl, a bit heard of a random conversation “…this guy’s going for gold, he’s going for gold!”, whatever the fuck that means, the dull low pass filtered hue from a track you love, making its lonely way from a heaving dance floor. Well this is pure fucking torture. Missing the jol. Oh well.
We must find a way out of this tent. C’mon, get up, you homo-sapien. Get in the fucking vibe! Get in the vibe! You can tell yourself as much as you like but its organic, it must not be forced. It happens naturally.
Day 2: 2 chairs have been sacrificed to the burn. The campsite is a manic ramshackle of canvas palaces. The effort has been put in, somebody has brought a side table and a carpet, there are tents within tents: their tents have tents, you can call them rooms I suppose. The 50Hz hum of generators fill the air, its offset only by the sound of the speakers they drive. The sandy streets with people walking around in top hats and waistcoats, and S&M leather, round glasses, pink tutus, army helmets, nothing. The occasional naked person, you can’t help to look at. I love being naked. If there was a place to expose yourself to people without feeling overly self-conscious, this is the place to do it. I didn’t get round to it, but next time I go, I’m going to set aside a half an hour to dance around naked.

A day of exploration abounds in all directions, a week is not enough, 4 days is definitely not enough. The festival is in its 7th year, and the themed camps have evolved and matured into interesting creative pieces. The lengths people go to, to realise creative dreams is just incredible. To have an idea is all good and well but to realise it, in the middle of a godforsaken desert at the end of a razor rock encrusted road that has been known to claim all four tyres of a car in four separate events is nothing short of mind boggling. So when I say that someone built a fully soundproofed recording studio in the desert you get an idea of what I’m saying.
There is a minimalist beauty about this desert, wide open expanses of seemingly nothing. This is offset against the massive complexity of the ragged mountains on the horizon. The open spaces are the perfect canvas for sheering sculptures against a clean blue sky. The sweltering hot days formulate wisping stratus clouds which evolve into cloudy late afternoons. And then sheer unashamed, unabashed arrogantly beautiful sunsets. The most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen in my life.
The silence before the strike and the noise afterwards rises like, like, like a storm! The sun is down, the air is warm, there is magic in the air. The term “natural high” can be thrown around loosely*. It’s just you, surrounded by people you love, having a cracking good time, having an absolute laugh. Doing ridiculous things, dancing around like idiots, accidentally pissing on your mates leg, falling about in the desert, breaking more chairs*, wearing truly ridiculous outfits, being ridiculous, the more ridiculous the better, in fact that’s the general rule, the more it doesn’t belong in normal society the more it belongs at AfrikaBurn…
* Fuck I love Afrikaburn.

Don’t come to this desert expecting to have the experience hand delivered on a platter, and don’t be expecting a luxurious 5 course dinner. Sure you’re going to be given the first course but its going to be confusing and intimidating, a sea urchin ceviche that will poke you in the eye and blow sand in your face, after that initial shock, you’re expected to hunt down your own food. Like anything in life its what you make it, it is a possibility to sit around the campsite studying the tarpaulin and maybe have a few laughs with the mates, but AfrikaBurn is not about that, so stand the fuck up and go explore. Find your guru, have a naked tea party, play a game of criggy amongst the artworks, crap in HD: (The toilets are just superb. Please don’t make any mistake, I’m not referring to the portaloo’s those are fucken horrendous. By day three someone would have turned those into an art piece. Brown is the god’s color. No, no I’m referring to the bush toilets. Sure someone may get a glance of you, with grimaced face, but being able to sit down and look out on the desert and sky and the beyond is reminiscent of something you’d find on Branson’s island. I call it crapping in HD.), apparently there is also a topless parade, which I missed, nevertheless you get the picture, just don’t leave this place without a few stories to tell.
The days wear on, the jol wears on. Your friends are running out of wet wipes and the disco damage is starting to show. Day three of the awkward wakeup after the chemicals have long gone and left your system. Four chairs have been sacrificed to the burn. I decide to go for a run: clear the mind, sweat out the booze, listen to The National. It’s as if a collective lull has fallen on the burn, but in that there’s a reprieve, an understanding that hey I’m not alone. I run into the desert, and there it is. You are in the fucking wild. A winding road away from the artworks and mania. To steal away from the craziness for an hour is just incredible. I return: a new man. Perhaps in this weird post-apocalyptic community that we’ve started in the desert, we’ve formed a connection, like burning embers making up a fire. I can feel my fellow burners exiting the trough. We’re all feeling right as rain.
It’s Saturday, I take one final walk around the campsites, just to see what everyone’s up to. I’m reunited with some friends from Cape Town, and it’s so awesome to see them again. And you just knew they would be there… And in that, is the true beauty of AfrikaBurn. AfrikaBurn accepts everybody, but to have the right stuff, and the balls, and the fortitude to decide to take the plunge and buy tickets and plan and find a way is in itself the filter that removes the cunts. We are the people. All I can say is this, if you are meant to be a burner you will be a burner, and trust me you will be surrounded by a legion of your peers. And we will whoop and cheer and scream as the fire engulfs the effigy and it burns as bright as the fucking sun, and we reel back from the heat, in that moment look to your left, I will be there.

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