Like an annual Woodstock in the bush, the Bushfire Festival in the Kingdom of Swaziland, South Africa, brings together a broad spectrum of artists and musicians for a three-day festival of creative celebration devoted to the support of socially responsible charities and foundations. Between 15,000 and 20,000 people gather to eat, celebrate, and watch the varied offerings of these international performers that vary in genre from local folk artists to pop and hip-hop stars to the Yale University Concert Band. Major recipients of the Bushfire proceeds include Young Heroes, an organization that provides support to orphaned children, and Gone Rural boMake, an organization devoted to assisting the rural women of Africa with their education, health, and social needs.

On top of this, the Bushfire Festival is aggressive about providing opportunities for young people and creative adults to develop their artistic skills. The 100% Seriously Swazi program gathers local talent from throughout Swaziland in a kind of American-Idol-style competition where winners get the chance to perform in the Bushfire Festival. The “Bushfire Schools Festival” also takes the creative energy of the larger festival out into the local schools, promoting artistic development in the broader community. Taken all together, the Bushfire Festival has clearly positioned itself as a major artistic event for the promotion of social responsibilities.

Just prior to the Bushfire Festival that took place in May of 2011, however, a large group of democracy activists from Swaziland began to question the socially responsible nature of the celebration. Their argument, as laid out by Richard Rooney, is that to hold this festival in the last authoritarian monarchy on the continent sends the wrong message. Shortly before Mr. Rooney’s report, democracy activists had been attacked by Swazi police with rubber bullets and tear gas, suggesting that Swaziland’s current dictator is not receptive to the rumblings of democracy. To hold the Bushfire Festival would tend to promote Swaziland’s king as a socially responsible leader, when they felt he clearly was not.

To the Bushfire Festival’s credit, as well as that of the democracy activists in Swaziland, this issue was resolved shortly before the festival took place in May. On May 13, 2011 Louise Redvers reported that the boycott had been called off as a result of talks between the two organizations. While continuing to emphasize the need for democratic reform in Swaziland, the democratic activists also became public supporters of the benefits the Bushfire Festival provides for the poor and underprivileged. Accomplishing this change is yet another support for the idea that the Bushfire Festival is a true celebration of creativity that supports genuine social responsibility.

In a world where social responsibility is desperately needed, but genuine altruism is a rarity, the Bushfire Festival stands out as a success. It is refreshing to know that there are people around the world willing to work for the benefit of those in need while supporting the artistic evolution of mankind.

Source by Cecelia Owens

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