Love at first sight – MTN Bushfire Festival
Swaziland is often in the news for all the wrong reasons, with special focus on the king splashing out on luxuries while his subjects struggle to survive amid abject poverty. Ask an average South African about Swaziland and you shouldn’t be surprised when all they know is the multiple wives from the royal kraal and the rampant HIV claiming many lives. In recent years Swaziland has requested financial aid from big brother South Africa, who has promised to help provided certain conditions are met…to my knowledge that transaction is still pending to date.
A minority (South Africans) are familiar with Swazi Gold, that is marijuana (dagga) to the uninitiated. Swaziland produces high quality dagga especially around the Hhohho region, which helps many villagers earn (decent or not) a living. Dagga itself is not legal in the country, however many rural villagers cultivate this crop out of desperation to survive. This crop finds its way into South Africa and rest of the world in exchange for cash which puts food on the table to many Swazi citizens.
Away from these well documented negatives about Swaziland, one son of the soil named Jiggs Thorne has managed to host an internationally acclaimed arts and music festival that attracts loads of tourists who bring with them foreign currency that benefits many tourism products beyond the festival itself. This year marked the seventh edition of MTN Bushfire Festival which was also my first time to attend.
This festival is a melting pot of multi-cultural artists and musicians who share their talent with a diverse audience in a 3 days extravaganza.
I only managed to book accommodation and festival pass on Monday the same week of the festival. As a result all lodging facilities within a short distance of the festival week fully booked. However I managed to secure a booking at Esibayeni Lodge which is about 18km away from Malkerns, the festival venue. We were booked with a number of musicians also performing at the festival and happened to share a breakfast table with some members of The Brother Moves On group. Others to mention that I dumped into at the breakfast hall where the Muffinz and Jazzy P (a Swazi artist).
I was quoted R610 per room a night (B&B) and paid R1,830 for 3 nights in advance. Sadly on my return home I was greeted by an email from Esibayeni Lodge to the fact that a mistake was made on their part by forgetting to include VAT on the original bill. So I had to settled the outstanding balance…to avoid unnecessary dialogue I indeed paid the balance.
Within the festival premises a well structured and managed campsite was alive with campers of all groups. We managed to stroll around to observe the possibility for next year get ourselves closer to the action and we were sold on the spot. Lavatories, firewood, security, space and camp reception were all fully equipped to ensure camper’s needs were met throughout the event.
I understand a new category “VIP Camping” will be introduced next year and we’ll ensure we book early to secure ourselves a space. Since this year was our inaugural attendance we did not bring along our son, however having experienced the family friendly setup of the festival, next year our son turning 4 in August will be joining us.
We were doing a road trip, left Johannesburg at around 12 noon on Friday and by 15.45 we were already queueing at Oshoek Border Gate. One observation about the border processes, especially the South African side, it needed personnel to direct traffic into all active window counters. Those familiar with border crossing were able to jump the queue as many people were concentrated in one counter while other counters were empty. This minor occurrence resulted in long queues which could have been avoided if there was a person responsible for directing people to all active window counters to have passports verified by home affairs officials.
Public transport at the festival venue was aplenty, private cabs and minibus taxis were always available for anyone to hire.
Before heading to the festival we decided on familiarizing ourselves with Esibayeni Lodge and went to their restaurant to grab some chicken hot wings. The service from the waiters was below average…especially when we started talking about wines. Very slow and lack of information.
To top it all and sadly we discovered to be the norm with many Swaziland restaurants…VAT is not included on food menu prices. So whatever price is displayed on the menu, it’s exclusive of VAT which has to be paid with your final fill.
Discouraged by the poor service at the restaurant we decided on exploring other tourism products in the kingdom, our next stop was Summerfield Botanical Garden and Resorts for some fine dining experience. We were blown off our socks by the sheer luxury of the property and superior service by the restaurant staff. I enjoyed a bottle of red wine Casillero del Diablo (Cabernet Sauvignon) with Mushroom Vegetarian Lasagna, while Lerato entertained her taste buds with prawn cocktail.
At the festival, people just love their beef and chicken…that is how well I can sum up the activity around one food stall that supplied the popular eats. There was always long queues just for beef and chicken which was roasted in open flame (braai).
I was privileged to come across Tutto Co. which specialises on spanish dishes – paella. Have been following their progress since I came across their offering through Market On Main facebook page and was happy that even though I’m yet to attend Market On Main, I tasted a Paella and am hooked. Information sourced from Tutto Co. facebook page indicates that 1,200 paellas were sold during the festival (with cheapest plate going for R50) and they indeed smiled all the way to the bank.
I also tasted food by Mystic Yeoville…which was very foreign to my taste buds, but was worth the adventure. R50 a plate was the standard fee for food at the festival. There were many food stalls all selling a variety of food to suit different taste buds. The festival organisers were very smart in ensuring that food vendors are not duplicated…however that also proved to be a problem for beef and chicken lovers as these meats were in short supply, especially on Saturday which was a sold out affair.
At the VIP marquee, where I was seated most of the time, I enjoyed a bottle of red wine each day of the festival. We ordered dessert, myself and Lerato opting for chocolate brownie wish ignited a flurry of new orders by others seated next to us from after realising our preferred sweets were on offer (surprising how people read the food menu!)
Access to the festival was tightly controlled with uncompromising security personnel always making sure that each and everyone gaining access to the festival had a valid wristband.
For the 3 days we purchased the VIP Golden Lounge festival pass which set us back by R1,300.
The VIP Golden Lounge was billed to be the best pass option with:
- clear view to the main stage seated.
- tv monitors feeding action from the main stage
- gas heaters
- cash bars
- waiters – inexperienced, though eager to help. i encountered on several occasions where I placed an order, waiter without a notepad to record my order. Without demanding cash upfront, would bring a bottle of wine, then a wine glass later and finally a corkscrew (which I had to explain each day what a corkscrew was). Considering that especially on Friday and Saturday the vip lounge was packed to capacity, keeping track of orders was a battle for waiters and twice I paid for my bill after reminding them it was still outstanding….am sure other patrons took advantage of this laidback attitude and not paid their bills.
Something has to be done with the overcrowding at the VIP Golden Lounge…on Saturday we were seated on the floor because all tables were fully booked. If its truly a VIP treatment, all patrons should be afforded the same experience…afterall we all pay the same ticket price.
My suggestion is to increase the VIP Lounge or limit the number of tickets sold per day.
They were many artists performing at the festival, however I’ll only point out what left a lasting impression on me.
Toya Delazy – Extremely talented, good dancer, signs very well and crowd just went berserk during her performance. You don’t have to be young to appreciate her talent…
The Brother Moves On – I cannot classify their genre of music…it’s very unusual for black musicians, a combination of metal, funk and rock. A very refreshing approach to music considering that blacks shine on house, hip-hop, afro-pop, kwaito, maskandi, gospel, mbaqanga and choral music. Their attire also matched their performance…all out of the ordinary.
Muffinz – Their drummer killed it…that dude sings very well and according to me he should actually be the lead vocalist. Am not sure of the language but sounded like Shona from Zim. His singing style reminded me of Oliver Mtukudzi.
The Soil – Swaziland Solidarity Network (opposition to the current government system of Tinkhundla) had earlier claimed they managed to convince this group to join their cultural boycott and not perform at the festival. To the pleasant surprise of any patrons, The Soil dished out a stellar performance on the day.
- Swaziland is pregnant with road speed humps, every corner has them and no road sign to warn you!
- VAT is excluded on food menus in restaurants…don’t be surprised by your final bill.
- Entire trip was self-funded, no paid for endorsement.