Response to the Unofficial Cultural Boycott of Swaziland


Response to the Unofficial Call for the Cultural Boycott of Swaziland


The MTN BUSHFIRE team would like to bring to your attention the unofficial Call for Cultural Boycott of Swaziland. The SSN (Swaziland Solidarity Network), a group based in Johannesburg, South Africa, have called for a blanket cultural boycott on Swaziland since April 2011. Please see their statement here: http://bit.ly/wSKssm

At MTN BUSHFIRE we are of course very aware of the current call for a cultural boycott of Swaziland. While we acknowledge the importance of engaging the cultural community in the debates about Swaziland's future we strongly believe that this is best achieved by welcoming artists with a range of voices and opinions to perform in our country as a component in the ongoing national debate. We will continue to defend our right to create opportunities for freedom of expression.

We note that the blanket ban on artists coming into Swaziland is unofficial and has been called without any consultation with the cultural community of Swaziland. We did not call for it, were not approached to discuss it, and we do not support it: it has been imposed on us.

The main question for us, Swazi arts practitioners, in seeking open debate and freedom of expression in Swaziland is: does isolation of Swaziland through a cultural boycott, that sharply reduces diversity of cultural expressions, serve the interests of democracy and a free society? Our answer is emphatic: NO.

The boycott risks threatening the livelihoods of innocent Swazis, and reduces the avenues for freedom of expression within Swaziland. It is a blunt tool, unfair and undemocratic. The Swazi cultural sector, with its contemporary arts festivals and shows, gives artists and performersa platform for diversity of cultural expression and creates opportunities for open debate. We therefore ask why this soft target is being punished by way of a call to a boycott?

The boycott unilaterally seeks to remove our basic human right to artistic freedom, and freedom of expression. We reject the notion that it is acceptable to compromise one set of human rights in pursuit of another. At this difficult time for Swaziland we seek to extend, not reduce, the opportunities for freedom of expression. The boycott seeks to reduce the range of voices which will be heard here.

We are consulting widely within the local and regional arts community on this issue in an attempt to find consensus on a way forward.

We demand an immediate suspension of the cultural boycott to enable all parties to have an open and constructive discussion of the issues which face us all as Swazis. We call on all those who value artistic freedom to support us.



Jiggs Thorne

Director of MTN BUSHFIRE 2012






"The ANC is not party to any cultural boycott... The government is also not involved in the cultural boycott. The name of the ANC and the government has been dragged in the mud. We have never had any discussion on this and we distance ourselves from it. People who are booked for shows in Swaziland can go to Swaziland."


ANC Spokesperson Keith Khoza

on Metro FM 6 March 2012


See link for article on the ANC’s dismissal of the boycott:




“The African Festival Network (AFRIFESTNET) notes the current debate around the issue of cultural boycotts, with specific reference to the call for artists to boycott the upcoming Bushfire Festival in Swaziland.

One of AFRIFESTNET’s core values, one contained in both our launch Resolution and in our Constitution is a commitment to Freedom of Speech. It is a non-negotiable value and one to which we hold all of our members. We further acknowledge the arts as being an important vehicle for open expression and for promoting the ideals of democracy, human rights, freedom of association and free speech.

The Bushfire Festival is a member of AFRIFESTNET and accordingly subscribes to the same values and principles. We urge, therefore, those calling for a boycott to take due notice of the nature of Bushfire and the role it plays in providing a platform for artists to express themselves, and the positive role it can and does, play in broader Swazi society. It is our view that it would be counter-productive to embark on a blanket cultural boycott which has the effect of silencing such a powerful, independent voice in Swaziland.

A cultural boycott alone will not result in political change in any country. To be effective, such a boycott needs to be part of a broader, focused, systematic set of interventions. We note that economic and other sanctions are not in place against Swaziland and in that case propose that a comprehensive dialogue, reaching across all sectors of progressive Swazi society, be embarked on so that our colleagues and friends in that country may be part of an empowered and effective movement toward democracy.”


- Steering Committee, African Festival Network (AFRIFESTNET)




“In my own country, Zimbabwe, cultural isolation (of Zimbabwe) has been rejected by virtually all artists as a denial of cultural diversity and full freedom of expression, and hence anti-democratic. I cannot conceive of a scenario in Swaziland where cultural isolation actually strengthens democracy; the effect will be the opposite, it will strengthen the hand of anti-democratic forces that thrive in isolation”.


Paul Brickhill, Creative Director, Pamberi Trust ~ Book Café




Feb 2012


A comment from the Arterial Network, one of the largest Arts networks on the continent.

Note that they emphasise a 'SELECTIVE' approach to boycotts.


'Arterial Network supports the application of cultural boycotts as a means of pressure towards democratic change and greater respect for human rights, but that such boycotts be applied in a selective manner (as it was in South Africa) that


• isolates ruling elites in undemocratic countries and avoids state cultural events that lend credibility to repressive regimes and


builds, empowers and defends independent civil society structures, platforms and activists in the creative sector


We believe that selective cultural boycotts must contribute to the struggle for democracy and human rights by helping to organize all sectors of civil society, including the creative sector, and to build capacity and sustainability within the sector.


Finally, we encourage broader democratic forces struggling for change within Swaziland to engage with the progressive organized arts and culture community in Swaziland - and vice versa - in the formulation and application of strategies to transform Swazi society.'


Issued by:

Arterial Network’s Continental Secretariat




The Republic of South African Government has not called for a cultural boycott of Swaziland and in particular the MTN BUSHFIRE Festival. We believe that culture and heritage are key to nation building and social cohesion and these are the ingredients for creating a climate of social stability, generating economic growth, employment and trade as is the case in many advanced economies. We therefore support the MTN Bushfire festival with their endeavors and vision to record our compelling history as Africans and our cultural diversity.


Rashid Lombard, Festival Director,

Cape Town International Jazz Festival




The National Arts Festival in Grahamstown wishes to publicly state its support for Swaziland’s MTN Bushfire Festival.


As a Founding Member of AFRIFESTNET represented on that body’s Steering Committee, the National Arts Festival aligns itself with the sentiment expressed by AFRIFESTNET in its statement dated 2 May 2012.


We wish, particularly, to underscore the point made in the final paragraph of the AFRIFESTNET statement, namely that a cultural boycott alone is not sufficient to effect change in Swaziland. Accordingly we join the call for dialogue between all progressive members of Swazi society in the fight for human rights and democracy in that country.


The arts can be a powerful force for good and catalyst for change. It is our belief that this force can, and should, be harnessed in a positive way to work for change in Swaziland. To this end, we believe in constructive engagement between artists, civil society and all stakeholders. We also believe that an open, independent platform such as that provided by MTN Bushfire should be embraced rather than boycotted.




“Festivals invigorate young people’s interest in local culture, provide opportunities for artists and civil society to meet and learn from each other, keep traditions alive, create employment for local people and promote responsible tourism that honours and respects local culture. In the absence of a legitimate Call to Boycott from the majority of people in Swaziland, we therefore applaud Bushfire Festival’s continuing efforts to provide a platform for building unity, promoting cultural diversity, freedom of expression in Swaziland and opportunities for open debate”


Yusuf Mahmoud

Director of Sauti za Busara Festival, Zanaibar






“The threats don’t deter me from doing my job as an artist. I have a responsibility to help heal where there is conflict.

“I must unite people where politicians are dividing us. It’s the business of politicians to separate people, as usual, and I am not surprised by the threats. All my life my music has promoted love, peace, tolerance and human rights and must be viewed as such. Thinking otherwise would be unfair.

“Those who are threatening my life actually need healing themselves and I will ensure my music heals their anger and help them think properly. That is the purpose of art. Music must be a remedy in times of strife and artists must be given a chance to fulfill that obligation.”


Oliver Mthukudzi performed at Bushfire in 2011.




“If the Bushfire Festival says that 100% of their profits go to charity, they must be held accountable to that, and I agree in holding them accountable. If the Bushfire Festival says that it employs a number of Swazis who wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to make a living, then I agree in holding them accountable for that. But to make them responsible for the organs of state, the quality of free press, the king’s new jet, the right to protest …and all the other things that are wrong with the country, is not fair. They don’t have that power. They’re putting on a concert, not running the country.


We artists are not legitimising the regime, we’re doing some other business, we are engaging the souls of the people who want to come and see us. I believe in the power of the imagination to change people’s minds – but their behaviour may take a while to catch up. Artists are not message-bearers or ciphers, they are humans gifted with reflecting the
human condition back to other humans, evoking their humanity and compassion. The Bushfire theme is Call to Action: and I wonder what that is. It might not yet exist: but that’s why artists are there. To dream the invisible into reality – and it might only last a second or
the length of a performance, but just for that time, humans deserve to see that life is full of possibility, if we can only allow ourselves to imagine it.”


See here for full article



Phillippa Yaa De Villiers will be performing at MTN BUSHFIRE 2012’s newest stage The Barn.




"I personally think that the boycott is targeted at the wrong people. And if it were to go into full effect the boycott would have very little effect on the matter at hand.
They should see this as a platform of expression for the people by the people. Not to mention the donations to communities who have been marginalised economically and are being given the opportunity to trade, and to represent themselves.
The saddest thing is when the "haves" apparently speak on behalf of the have "not" without truly taking out the time and energy to give those who are really struggling a voice, or even a chance to represent themselves and communicate the reality of situation to the global community. "


Nancy G & The Human Family will be performing at MTN BUSHFIRE 2012.




“Jika Nelanga are happy to participate in this wonderful music and arts festival as we feel that we are contributing to helping orphans and women in rural communities in Swaziland. We can think of no better way for us as artists to contribute to this noble cause than to share our music, which we play straight from the heart. We feel that music is a food for the spirit and as such should be shared with as many people as possible. Bushfire Festival offers the perfect opportunity for our music to make a difference in the hearts and lives of the Swazi people ..providing inspiration for the future. Music has the ability to achieve this and we are honoured to share it.”


Jika Nelanga will be performing at MTN BUSHFIRE 2012.




"Before I started performing as Jeremy Loops, I co-founded an organisation calledGreenpop. Greenpop plants trees in under-greened schools and organises reforestation events around Southern Africa. The aim of our operation is to educate, spread environmental awareness and facilitate social and economic bridging in the areas we work in. I continue to work full time on my endeavours with Greenpop and am currently writing this message from Livingstone, Zambia, where in July we'll be hosting our biggest project yet calledTrees for Zambia.


Playing at Bushfire resonates with everything that I stand for, and I am honoured to have the privilege to take part in a truly conscious festival."


Jeremy Loops will be performing at MTN BUSHFIRE 2012.



"We will participate on the Bushfire Festival 2012 becausewe haveto passa messageto peoplearound the world.Amessage of Inity,peace,love, harmony,understanding andnon-violence.We have seenthat there is aworldwide advertisingfor people tobecomeviolentthan thecrime apologyfor humanity.Wewith ourreggae,our presenceand our attitude wantto sharea good time."


Ras Haitrm will be performing at MTN BUSHFIRE 2012.




"We are participating at MTN BUSHFIRE to contribute to the improvement of underprivileged lives through Young Heroes, to share and learn from other artists from different parts of the world and to honour the power of art in music.

The Cultural Boycott deprives local audiences variety in terms of exposure to various music genres and a chance to watch artists they enjoy. It deprives local artists a chance to share and learn musical skills from well established artists. The boycott will eliminate cross cultural partnerships which contribute to the growth and exposure of local artists."


Dusty & Stones will be performing in collaboration with American Country duo Doster and Engle at MTN BUSHFIRE 2012.




From South Africa:The Giant Match Association, Tara, Tidal Waves, Goldfish, Tonik, Gazelle, Hot Water, Kathy Raven, The Tshe-Tsha Boys


International:Antonio Marcos (Mozambique), Shanti Lo (Botswana), Croc E Moses (Canada), Oliver Mtukudzi (Zimbabwe), Habib Koite (Mali), The Yale Concert Band (USA), D’Bi Young (Canada), La Parole du Silence, Pedro The Music Man (Spain).





From South Africa:Freshly Ground, Judith Sephuma, Kunle Ayo, Soul Brothers, Gang of Instrumentals, Joyous Celebration, Black coffee, DJ Tira, Glen Lewis, Big Nuz, AKA, Tear Gas, Zakes Bantwini, Zulu boy, Lulo Café, Dino Bravo, Dj Fresh, Dj Euphonik, Tsepho Tsola, Pro kid, Aka, Kenneth, Nkosi, S’fiso Ncwane, Shota , Eddie Zondi, DJ Cleo, Somizi Mhlongo, Mandoza



International:Oliver Mtukudzi (Zimbabwe), Habib Koite (Mali)





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