Afrika Burn Regional Grows to 9,000 Participants

The desert valley of the Tankwa, Karoo is a six-hour drive north from Cape Town, South Africa, and is home to Afrika Burn –  the world’s largest official Burning Man Regional Event. A well-paved highway dotted with the occasional police checkpoint gives way to a “tyre-munching” washboard dirt road. Over the final three hours, the drive goes from amusing to bone jarring.

Eventually, the dusty road – South Africa’s equivalent to Highway 447 – opens onto rolling hills, scrub brush and Stonehenge Farm — home to Afrika Burn. 2014 marks the event’s eighth anniversary, launched in 2007 by South Afrikan Burners most of whom first attended Burning Man in 2006.  Decompressing in Yosemite Valley, they laid their plans to bring Burning Man home and make it their own. In early May, 2014, over 9,000 people braved heat, washboard roads and overdoses of electronica to trek to the event.

Afrika Burn is organized by a lean production team with oversight from a sizable group of Members, which in the U.S. would be known as the Board of Directors, helping to steer the direction of the non-profit community-building event organization. Afrika Burn shows some of the hallmarks of the processes, departments, and organizational systems that developed in Black Rock City during the late 1990s: the city layout is reminiscent, there is a Greeters Station with a bell, they have a newly formed Rangers department, emergency medical services, a central effigy that burns on Saturday night, a temple that burns on Sunday night, they provide grants for art projects, there is a version of Center Camp, and The Ten Principles describe the city’s culture. But all of these elements have been adopted by the organizers and modified with a South African sensibility and sense of humor. Center Camp became “Off Center Camp” and there is no cafe beverage service.

The Clan emblem of Afrika Burn atop the greeter bells.
The Clan emblem of Afrika Burn atop the greeter bells.

The Greeters Station bears the event emblem of “the clan” or “San Clan”, an image found in ancient cave paintings in the area, and that embodies the interconnectedness of people and community.

The city plan for Tankwa Town.
The city plan for Tankwa Town.

An eleventh principle was added. The city layout has its own design tailored to the land, the street names are in Afrikaans, and the avenue names run from “2:00 ish” to “10:00 ish”.

AfrikaBurn - Trickster - 2014-97
Afrika Burn’s 2014 central effigy: The Trickster.

The central effigy sculpture changes entirely each year, with the presence of the clan emblem providing a sense of continuity from year to year. The 2014 event theme was The Trickster, manifested in The Interpreter, a 19 meter- (nearly 60 feet) tall robot sculpture with one arm raised and wearing a rabbit mask. Long-time central effigy builder and self-described troublemaker Brendan Smithers was the project lead behind The Interpreter. He describes the meaning of the sculpture as a representation of the duality of human nature, of technology and nature, of masculine and feminine. He shared that behind the mask is a slightly cynical commentary through the robot that speaks to participants adopting a sort of “Burner fundamentalism”, one where people allow themselves to be sucked into “group think” without discovering the opportunity for authentic expression, and eventually they develop a sort of inflexible attitude in what is supposed to be a very flexible environment. In the spirit of The Trickster, Brendan initially designed the robot with both arms raised, a nod and an irreverent poke at “The Burning Man”, but after Nelson Mandela passed away earlier this year, the sculpture design changed to one “fist” raised, an iconic gesture made popular during the African National Congress’s rise to power through the 1980s and early 1990s, led by Mandela’s commitment to equality in South Africa.

While Afrika Burn may be the largest Burning Man-inspired event in the world, it still feels young in a very vibrant, exciting way. Many people say that it feels how Black Rock City felt in 1998. The event is scaling slowly so that the organizers and community can support the spread of the ethos that is the spirit of Tankwa Town. To this end, Afrika Burn added an eleventh principle to the Burning Man Ten Principles: “Each One Teach One”, which states “All of us are custodians of our culture – when the opportunity presents itself, we pass knowledge on.” With a proposed planned growth rate of no more than 25% per year, and a possible self-imposed population limit, this event is being stewarded with great care and thoughtfulness.

One of the remarkable aspects of Afrika Burn is the noticeable family environment that is woven into the fabric of the city. There are families everywhere, people of all ages, all socializing and bonding in a most wonderful and playful way. There is a very tribal sensibility to peoples’ camps at this event, evident in how different families watch over each others’ children and how integrated they are in the activities of the event. A common sentiment among many of the youth is that they love Afrika Burn. This is a potential win for our collective future because, as with other Regional Events, it instills universally useful values in the people who could be the great artists, leaders, and creators of tomorrow.

As several of the Directors of Afrika Burn described, these types of events are a training ground for people to learn to be engaged. These experiences are an antidote to the insidious passive consumption that feeds on a life devoid of creativity, permission, and empowerment. Event Directors Liz Linsell, Graeme Allan and Monique Schiess all echoed that Afrika Burn is training people in “the Do-ocracy”. As Monique said, “If you see something that needs to be done, just do it. You don’t need to wait for some sort of authority to do it. You just do it.”

Afrika Burn is held annually in early May. More info may be found at

Additional Contributions: Special thanks to $teven Ra$pa, the Afrika Burn production team, and the Burning Man Communications team.


10 Comments on “Afrika Burn Regional Grows to 9,000 Participants

  • Jackie says:

    “These experiences are an antidote to the insidious passive consumption that feeds on a life devoid of creativity, permission, and empowerment.”

    Permission and empowerment?

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  • Roy says:

    What an absolute shame….REAL TALK not only falsely accuses the good people who do all the work, allowing 9000 like minded souls to enjoy a week of heaven, but is daft enough to make such false allegations when all financials are posted and every cent accounted for. Shame on you REAL TALK #knowyourfacts

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  • Bobob says:

    Jackie, “permission and empowerment” is code for “it’s spiritual”.

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  • Hope says:

    Um yeah, REAL TALK. Ticket prices for AfrikaBurn gets determined by [budget that it takes to host the event] divided by number of tickets made available. This year a ticket to AfrikaBurn was R991 (that is less than $100). What is a ticket price to Burning Man? oh um ja, ok. #knowyourfacts indeed.

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  • werner says:

    Jackie what is meant by permission and empowerment, to my understanding is that, as South African’s we are a very conservative nation with a lot of social and cultural boundaries towards politics, art, freedom of speech and sexuallity, this is one of the few places we can express ourselves in South Africa and not be deemed outcast of our culture standards. The empowerment and permission giving by this social experiment of Afrika Burn is a open space where we can have a chance to see our ability as a mixed cultural country and experiment with what we feel need to place out there, as for my self Afrika burn has given me a platform to start a converstaion about sex positiveness topic in our country.

    Real Talk, wake up buddy. Please see link below and ask AB for more info on the financials of Afrika Burn and then go and look at other regional burn cost, and then on their accessibility to the site, we have the best shitter at any burn in the world and i will happily pay more for that facility in comparison with other burns.

    Afrika Burn R 991
    Midburn in Israel R1500
    Burningman R4000
    Nowhere in Spain R 2189,66 (btw not allowed to burn any art work)
    Kiwi Burn R1446,02

    In love and dust we trust !

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  • Yukon says:


    Just because Burning Man touts as one of their 10 commandments “Decommodification” doesn’t mean BM and all its franchise subsidiaries aren’t deeply involved in profit making. It’s a hard lesson to learn, and if feels a bit like you’ve been lied to when you realize what is actually going on.

    Burning Man and all companies related to it are FOR PROFIT companies. The only ‘decommodification’ that exists is that you officially can’t profit while at the event(s). Unofficially, I have friends who have made thousands of dollars renting out generators at Burning Man. They bring a truck full of them and clients come and pick them up, and pay be cash in hand. If that’s not commodification, what is? Just because you have a black-market economy, doesn’t mean the economy doesn’t exist.

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  • Kobie says:

    “Decommodification” is a bit half baked at AfrikaBurn – ice is an officially supported commercial product.

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  • Red Banana says:

    Ice is also sold at Burning Man. So is coffee. It’s my understanding that ice is sold at Afrika Burn because it aids in keeping people healthy (keeps food and drinks cold) in the desert. There’s nothing quite like days of diarrhea and dehydration to totally kill your burn buzz.

    If it’s a perfect world you’re looking for where everything fits neatly into a box, Afrika Burn or Burning Man aren’t it. But they’re pretty damned close. The principles involved aren’t rules, after all. They’re guidelines, right?

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  • mroso says:

    I am consistently amazed by the vehement assertion of so many that Afrikaburn (or Burning Man) is not decommodified. I have brought hundreds of litres of home made cider to the event for gifting and there are thousands who have done similar things. Countless innovative meals, services and massive entertainments (all given freely) funded by external individuals and external groups are a testament to the reality of major decommodification. Externally hiring generators does in no way testify against decommodification. Would you have a special task force that clamps down on a small black market? I would not. Why is ice a stumbling block to some of you? Its not exactly a huge economic scheme. One does not see logos, branding, or the sale of any commodities (except ice on a small scale). What other events come close to this? I am terrifically proud to have been an active participant at Afrikaburn. Its wonderful, its beautiful, its unique. Arrive, bury your wallet and phone, participate. Love the people. They love you. As Red Banana says, “The principles involved aren’t rules, after all. They’re guidelines, right?”.

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  • goetz scheffel says:

    Wow!Real talk-thats a funny statement-while Afrika Burn is a NON PROFIT ORG and most of its members are working full time for salarys that no one else with their knowledge would like to have in South Africa it is also the many volunteers that keep the ship afloat….while most other Burning Orgs are not non profits and someone is always making some money on the back of the burn you completely miss the point-most people are gifting (some lots , others little) lots of their time, money or belongings….i dont know what makes you state something like “burn in hell” but maybe you should just look at that sentence alone and ask yourself – did you spread the love ?
    on a different note-the article completely ignores the fact that this years 9000 participants had a huge number of partygoers that did not contribute-Afrika Burn faces problems at the moment that are typically South African problems and has to deal with it….we saw the same crowd at Burning Man last year but they didnt moop, didnt trash themselves violently and didtn just party-most of them contributed….not sure if it has something to do with first and third world upbringings but it s gonna be interesting how the AB community will adress these problems as the 11th principle was born out of this problem but hasnt solved it so far…..

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