THE BIG READ: Freedom rules, okay? - Times LIVE
Wed Mar 29 09:19:55 SAST 2017

THE BIG READ: Freedom rules, okay?

Andrea Nagel | 2013-05-07 00:08:04.0
Thousands of idealists flock to the hippie festival in the remote Northern Cape

Hundreds of 4x4s line up at the gate of AfrikaBurn to exchange prepaid tickets for a map of the camp site and a programme of events. They've come from as far away as Sandhurst, Waterkloof, Bishopscourt, Constantia and beyond, resulting in the event's affectionate nickname Constantia Burn.

A R35-million Pilatus PC12 airplane stands on the runway close to the entrance. It costs R6000 an hour to run, proving that it can be expensive to spend a weekend living like a hippy.

Though the world is moving in the opposite direction, drowning in gross materialism, despotic authority and oversensitive hygiene, the principles of the hippy movement become more and more relevant, mostly for people who can afford to enjoy them.

The 7000 people at the five-day festival in the Northern Cape attested to the fact that so long as we have a soft bed and warm shower to return to, we revel in living with dirt, pit latrines and no running water, giving free drugs and hugs (although after a few days without a shower they're not as enticing), and sharing booze, friends and food.

''I could live like this forever," was the thesis of the conversation around the fire on the first night.

''Our vacuous hoarding of stuff is a leash around our necks, a symbol of our insecurities and petty status-envy," said a descendant from a wealthy randlord family. ''Let's burn stuff to celebrate our liberation from the corrupted values of the modern world."

And, indeed, on arriving at this commerce-free zone in the middle of nowhere in the Karoo desert, I was immediately infused with the free spirit of the event.

But there is a price to pay for freedom, to be a part-time anarchist and a fire-worshipper. We pay for it with rules and stipulations.

The organisers of AfrikaBurn strongly encourage all participants to read the 10 guiding principles on their website. They advocate communal effort, participation, civic responsibility, decommodification, gifting and leaving no trace. All worthy ideals, but having principles means they need to be enforced - a difficult contradiction for some.

A friend was horrified that he wasn't allowed to liberate a burning fire lantern inscribed with messages of love and peace into the universe. A pimply-faced enforcer politely confiscated the fire hazard, gently giving him the reasons: the waste comes down into the sensitive Karoo ecosystem or, if still burning, onto a tent setting the festival on fire.

My friend was inconsolable. ''I was looking for anarchy, not a temporary self-governing state."

The Tit Parade was another sore point for some. Hundreds of women baring their nipple-capped breasts danced behind a truck blaring burlesque tunes for the perfect picture opportunity. But well-meaning, privacy-protecting enforcers tried to stop the free-for-all.

''It's puritanical, proving that this whole event is contrived and doesn't represent the freedom it claims to endorse," said the objectors. ''These enforcers hold themselves as rule-makers like little school kids concerned with the trivial issues of nudity that the freedom and openness of the event encourages."

Three days into the event and the talk around the fire had turned from the idyllic communal and eco-respecting lifestyle to the inevitable pile-up in the pit latrines.

''I could live like this as long as I didn't have to help clean out those holes," said one of our party, proving that the alternative weekend nirvana eventually comes down to waste management and plumbing. My colonic endurance was three days.

As the end of Afrika Burns approached and tents were taken down, kelims rolled up and children dusted down and bundled into the car, the ecstatic partial freedom of the experience began to wear off.

It's unsustainable. We can't be off our heads for longer than a few days. Despite our deepest wishes to live in a community of sharing, ''radical inclusion", ''self-reliance" and ''radical self-expression", it is against our instincts - unless it's by necessity. They say that the kindest, most generous, most communal people are the ones that have the least stuff.

The spirit of those principles exists at AfrikaBurn, and we find that spirit in a bottle.


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