AfrikaBurn 2024: 29 April to 5 May

Decommodification in a commodified world.

At AfrikaBurn, we vigorously protect our event from decommodification throughout the year. It’s what makes us unique; there are loads of great festivals and events out there that are very commodified, and in South Africa, we understand that if you want to watch Kendrik Lamar, you have to get down on your knees and suck the corporate teats of Hein*k*n, C*c*-C**a, A*e, 94.*, *fm, *tv, P**y En*rgy Dr*nk, N*stl*, V*s* and not forgetting S**ongb*w to be able to do so. They all want you to have a good time (of course), but they also want you to drink their beer, use their deodorant, boost their audience ratings and more.

Being in a decommodified space, even if it’s just for a week, is an incredible and uniquely AfrikaBurn experience. It’s the hardest of capitalist resets for a lot of virgin Burners, but being in a space where a gift is given without the expectation of receiving anything back, where art is created without it being for sale, or where musicians perform for the joy of the music and not their appearance fee, is where magic happens at AfrikaBurn … creativity explodes, and the pleasure is deep and meaningful, not transient or transactional.

When it comes to our own identity, as AfrikaBurn the non-profit organisation and as Afrika-Burners, we often find ourselves being targeted by marketers who see us as an untapped, powerful and engaged community. While we in the operations team send the letters asking people to stop, our community protects us from being exploited by being our decommodification eyes and ears on the ground; alerting us to transgressions and protecting our community and our event from exploitation for profit by external companies. Because of this, we’ve registered AfrikaBurn and a few other unique AfrikaBurn names as copyrighted to be able to protect our collective intellectual property.

When decommodification transgressions are discovered, we always ask nicely first – and 99 times out of 100, the offending media or message is changed, and a public apology follows soon after. Smaller companies often think they’re trying to help by leveraging AfrikaBurn to sell their sparkly trousers, because ‘Burners would love our products’ but don’t realise that trying to exploit AfrikaBurn by selling something usually has the opposite effect … If you’re going to try and exploit us without permission, then we are probably going to make an active choice not to support you by buying your products.

On 21 April 2023 (when all of the ops team was already on-site), we got a text from one of the original Radio Free Tankwa founders asking us if we were now advertising with a well-known South African supermarket chain.

It wasn’t a traditional advert, but rather a dedicated section of their App labelled ‘AfrikaBurn’. So, we logged on and checked for ourselves, and lo and behold, there was AfrikaBurn as a featured promotion in their shopping app.

There were a few AfrikaBurn shopping sub-sections … Gifting, Leave No Trace, Getting a peaceful night’s sleep, etc. Whoever put the promotion together had done their homework about our event, right up to the point of reading the copyright disclaimer on the home page of our website.

So we did what we usually do: we quickly sent off a message asking them to stop – and found ourselves with an automatic response and a reference number thanking us for our support and patience. Calls to the call centre were logged, and multiple follow-ups ensued. 

On the 22nd, the promotion was still running during the peak preparation time for AfrikaBurn. We then also tried all the email aliases we could think of … marketing@ legal@ management@ help@ xtrasavings@ pleasefuckinghelpus@ Eventually, on 24 April, we had a reply from Rene, a company legal advisory lead who acknowledged the message sent and said that they would immediately remove all the uses of AfrikaBurn etc. on their app.

Because of their slow response, we estimate that the AfrikaBurn promotion had been running in total for about 3 to 4 days on the app, doing its small part to help BigNaughtySupermarket make record profits of 215 Billion Randelas in 2023. This didn’t sit well with us as a team, it does not seem fair for BigSneakySupermarket to be making money off the back of the generous, decommodified gifts of our community. We fight incredibly hard to keep ticket prices down, we want to spend more money on building art every year and here is a corporate company making a profit off the back of that.

We then got in touch with James McCarthy, who, as an avid Burner and AfrikaBurn supporter, had generously offered to gift us some legal hours from his practice. After careful consideration, he put us in touch with a colleague – Jessica-Jade Dalota, who could help and advise if we had any recourse, which she believed we did. 

While a ‘letter of demand’ does not sound like a very ‘AfrikaBurn’ way to do things, we felt it was worth pursuing after such an obvious and lengthy exploitation of our name to sell products and make a profit.

Initially, we simply wanted to know how much money BigRichSupermarket had made using our community’s Intellectual Property (IP). Was it Ten Rands, or was it a million? … a billion? 

On the 4th of July, we got a response from BigLousySupermarket’s attorneys – denying any infringement, we were now being asked to withdraw our claim – and should we ‘pursue action with a view to recovering alleged damages or royalties, such action would be vigorously defended’. … the perils of decommodification in a commodified world.

Our decommodification principle reads:

In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.

We, therefore, ask you all to stand ready to protect our culture and our community as we journey towards CREATION, and to please let us know when you see a BigWrongSupermarket or any other organisation exploiting AfrikaBurn in the default world. You are the guardians and protectors of our creative community; you are our eyes and ears, and you make sure that AfrikaBurn has no commercial interests and is unlike any other event in the world.

You know who to call: [email protected]

4 Responses

  1. I love your principles. Greed seems to find its way into every aspect of life. Let’s keep the Afrikaburn concepts alive. Thank you for giving hope in a mad world

  2. Of course, you could out them and we could all joyfully choose not to give them our randelas? Options in the arsenal for next time?

    1. Totally not a detective here, but “xtrasavings” is the loyalty programme for Checkers, so I think that’s a nice juicy clue!

  3. Looks like you got the email wrong. Isn’t it [email protected] ?

    No seriously.

    “We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable — but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art” Ursula le Guin

    Viva the revolution….

    PS don’t forget to #BDS for political change and peacemaking as well. That’s another way to be anti-capitalist.

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