MTN Bushfire Festival in Eswatini

The global entity at Bushfire Eswatini
The Global Entity
e35s1 MTN Bushfire Festival In Eswatini

Traveling to Eswatini: attempt one

Did you know that in a tiny country, called the Kingdom of Eswatini, lies one of Africas most popular music festivals? I attended the amazing MTN Bushfire festival in Eswatini and now I am ready to share the experience with you! I was introduced to Bushfire when I was in Cape Town, November 2022, lots of my friends wanted to go. They described it as a huge, international music festival with over 20 000 participants, for Africans, by Africans. Amazing, I thought. It will be the perfect opportunity to reunite with my friends from South Africa and experience my first, big, African music festival together!

Not feeling like I had the sufficient gear to camp in Eswatini during winter (May-September), I decided to stay at Legends Backpacker Lodge nearby the festival area. I’m very glad I did as winter here is surprisingly chilly at night. Plus my journey to Eswatini took an unexpected turn. My passport was confiscated by the border migration claiming that I didn’t have a proper visa. A whole eight hours I was held in dispense not knowing what was going to happen.  Eventually, all the issues were resolved but by then the borders were closed and I had to spend the night in a house filled with male police officers. Not a situation I would wish on anyone, especially not a solo traveling woman.

Nothing bad happened. Or let me put it this way, nothing further traumatising happened that night. The officers were nice and respectful and tried to make me feel okay which was a stark contrast to how we, just a few hours earlier, had been deadlocked in an exhausting and, to me, terrifying power battle. Their efforts of kindness didn’t comfort much, my body and whole being reacted instinctively to the potentially violent situation. Nobody would have heard me scream. There was nobody there except for me and the police, that made me terrified. I see the irony of that statement but I’m sure most of you would have felt the same.

Exhausted from all the fear and stress accumulated during the day I eventually managed to fall asleep feeling anything but safe. When I woke up in the morning my hips were clenched together so tightly that I have to lie on my back for a few minutes, knees to my chest, just rocking side to side, in order for them to loosen up. I think I will have to type a what-not-to-do manual some day, retelling all of my many visa crises I’ve had these past months (read about it here).


Entering into Eswatini: attempt two

The kombi (a minibus, Eswatini’s public transport) that had taken me to the border, had left me there the night before when they confiscated my passport. In the morning, when I got all of my papers back, I managed to hitch a ride from the border to the nearest town. From there, it was only two hours till I reached my final destination, Ezulwini Valley. Eswatini’s voluptuous mountains and hills welcomed me as I sit in the back of a fully packed kombi.

A kind looking lady strikes up a conversation with me, in an instant I have latched on and dumped all of my past 18 traumatic hours over her. Her face shifts from disbelief to anger to a grimace of sympathy, relief and fear at the same time. Then, just as suddenly, her face lights up with joy, she takes my hand and proclaims “But you are good now.”

This summarises something that has been so poignant it has been written on my nose throughout this entire trip. To hear it yet again now, in the back of a warm kombi, next to a kind stranger, makes me laugh out loud. There is a, to me, very liberating ability amongst many who live here, to focus on their present blessings. It is true, I am good.

Nothing bad happened. I am safe, I am good… now. The kind lady and I laugh together as we make fun of toxic masculinity traits in security providing jobs. Laughing together does me good and I can feel the tension in my body moving a little. But the very real danger of the situation hits me once again and makes the laugh get stuck in my throat. I return to gazing out at the endless mountains eating the ever circling road. Today could have been a very different day for me. My stomach clenches as my thoughts trail off into what ifs’.


My next home: Legends Backpacker Lodge

The fog lies mysteriously around the dynamic landscape obscuring the rest of the greenery, creating an air of deep magic. The sun warms my stiff body through the tiny, dirty side windows and I can feel myself coming back to life. I have arrived! The Legends Backpacker Lodge lies amongst ancient trees in a valley opening up towards the mountainous Eswatini horizon.

Decorated with lots of quirky and creative decor, the backpacker has an outside and an inside common area with seating, wifi, a common kitchen and a bar – just how I like my backpackers! The dorms are fresh and roomy with thick blankets to keep the cool night air away. I see signs and info sheets about hiking trails and incredible nature experiences. I make a mental note that I have to come back here and experience it properly some day. The next 24 hours I spent mostly sleeping and eating trying to recover from the too dramatic journey here.

The day after I arrived, I greet and hug friends as they drop in from different locations on the continent. Phone calls and messages start coming in as friends get their local sim cards activated; the planning and organizing for tomorrows’ first festival day is in full rotation. As the sun lowers Ezulwini Valley into a purple haze I can feel the energy changing within – all of the surrounding collective is getting ready to receive 20 000 dancing souls. I’m ready. A bit shaken albeit, but ready nonetheless.


The first day of MTN Bushfire festival 2023

On Friday I wake up with all of the Gods and Divine energies on my side. I can feel it! I pack my party bag with all layers of clothing I might need through the day and night and spend a fair few minutes cursing my decision to not bring my neon eyelashes. Eventually I get going to the festival area, despite festival access passes not being released till four PM, I somehow get mine from a kind stranger who has also arrived three hours too early.

I sit down to wait in the shade next to a group who turns out to be a group of local dealers. They are excited as they expect business to be good this year. Real good. One of them curiously asks where I’m from and if this is my first time at Bushfire festival. When I say it is, he generously gives me the A-B-C of where the shortest toilet lines will be, how to catch a festival shuttle back and forth from the festival area, and what substances to avoid in Eswatini in general. I take the opportunity to ask the women in the group about the safety during the night. They answered that they always feel safe going everywhere at Bushfire alone, even the toilet at night, but that they wouldn’t accept a drink from just any stranger.

As one of the guys in the group lights up, about 50 Eswatini police officers walk by. The group start laughing as they see my frozen, shocked expression. Smoking is not legal in this country. “Chill man! THIS IS BUSHFIRE!” they yell as they continue laughing. One of them turns to me with a serious face and says “But only during Bush hey, otherwise you can get in trouble for smoking even a cigarette on the street.” People have started gathering outside the main entrance and the group decides it is time to split up and get to work. 


With its first festival being held back in 2007, MTN Bushfire is today known as one of the best international music festivals in Africa and a mega hyped-must-experience. To say I am psyched to be here is an understatement. I decide to get some food before the stages open and find a delicious, authentic Ethiopian food place at the Bring Your Fire stage.

As I sit and shuffle the food into my system, friends from all over pop up. As we hug, catch up and decorate each other with glitter, I am overwhelmed with the community I feel. The people I was supposed to come here with had last minute changes resulting in me essentially traveling alone. But now, sitting here, surrounded by people that I met somewhere along my nine months on this continent, I feel held and part of. Everything is as it should.

As the sun sets and darkness wells over the festival arena, different lights, circus artists, drummers and fire artists start appearing everywhere. The festival area is gradually filling up with people and the energy is rising with anticipation. Right before the first music act is about to start, I end up losing my already way too drunk group of friends I was hanging out with. I stand under the star filled Eswatini sky and breathe, unsure of which stage I want to start at. A careful, soft voice behind me interrupts my thoughts.

“Sorry, excuse me…” she says, shifting her eyes between the ground and my face. “Sorry-I-just-always-wanted-to-ask-as-stranger-but-never-had-the…” Ask a stranger what, I wonder as the sound of her sentence trails off into the ground. Her face lights up as our conversation starts to flow naturally, starting from somewhere in the middle, not remembering to exchange even our names. She is a creative from Eswatini, a whole vibe, with the most intrinsic braiding I have ever seen.


A voice rings out over the whole festival area, a voice that vibrates from the ground up, penetrating the cores of everyone present. For a second that felt infinite, the whole festival paused and held its breath. I turn to my new found companion and exclaim in realisation “It’s Thobile! Thobile Makhoyane.”

With full comprehension, my new friend grabs our drinks in one hand and my hand in the other and together we rush towards the Main stage. We run through the crowds of beautiful, excited festival goers and get there just in time to see Thobile Makhoyane  perform the first part of the opening act. I am yet to meet somebody that can command a crowd with merely her voice the way Thobile can. Her performance is divine and way too short. Luckily, she is performing again on Saturday in the Amphitheater so I will have a second chance to see her.

After Bushfire’s stages have all opened, my friend with the beautiful hair turns to me and asks if I want to meet the other creatives of Eswatini. I eagerly accept and we proceed to make our way to the Bring your Fire
stage as she explains how the stage is a interactive creative stage but also an advocacy space. Surrounding the stage, local and international NGOs and IGOs, activists and volunteers are gathered around tables telling the stories of their work.

Bushfire is and always has been driven by a desire to create social change and impact. Each year the festival supports different projects, this year it went to projects supporting children and empowering women. You can read more about that here. We arrive just as the performances have started rolling. The spoken word floors me. The ones I feel the most are the ones that mix english with what I assume is the local language seSwati.

I quietly notice how I am surrounded by the young queers of Eswatini. The conversations of who is performing, who wasn’t invited and the political implications of that are flowing. Who came with who is also a hot topic. I notice how I relax in a way I haven’t in months. Solidarity. Community. Siblingship. This is the first time I am in a queer context since I left Sweden in October 2022. I feel happy and safe, excited for being welcomed in. Shortly after the first performances are done I get a phone call from my South African friend Lerato. She and her friend have arrived and are ready to dance!


I must confess that I came to Bushfire more for the experience of it than for the specific artists and line-ups. If I’m going to be upfront I might as well also confess I have about zero knowledge about artists in general. Besides the idols I had as a ten year old, I don’t remember any names, titles or lyrics of the music I currently consume. So imagine my surprise when I, in the middle of the sea of people dancing in front of the Ballantine’s Firefly stage, get to hear my all time favorite song of 2022. I turn around and see the UK DJ Megatronic pumping the hit and my personal anthem all of last year: Doja.

My whole being explodes and I start dancing and singing. Maybe dancing and lyrically shouting out the last words of every sentence is a more accurate description… The rest of the crowd is not getting it, but I don’t care. I dance like there is no tomorrow, like every stomp will bring me closer to the beat of the earth and every jump has the potential to swing me up into a new, higher dimension. I always said this day would come. Through all the visa issues, isolation and general mishaps, I knew the day would come, where I would finally start dancing and never stop. I feel now, that day is here.

At around three AM I get a call from one of the friends who is also staying at the hostel. “Are you ready to go home?” We manage to negotiate an okay price with one of the many taxi drivers outside the festival area. In the taxi home I feel all of the impressions welling over me. How lucky am I?! I turn and look at my almost sleeping friend and happily exclaim “I can’t wait for tomorrow!” He almost opens his eyes to smirk at me “Me too hey. Me too.”

5 thoughts on “MTN Bushfire Festival in Eswatini”

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