The feeling of Oppikoppi

“You arrive, you park your car in the bush and within 10 minutes you have dust in your hair and thorns in your hands.” According to Rhinus Lotz (35), who has only missed one Oppikoppi music festival thus far, this is the yearly start of his “Oppikoppi feeling”.

Lotz was one of the estimated 10 000 people who travelled to Northam in the Limpopo province this past weekend for the 14th edition of one of South Africa’s most famous music festivals.

At 9am in the morning, the sun burns down on the dusty camp that has sprung up on the Oppikoppi festival terrain. Bakkies and 4x4 stand next to tents.
Festival-goers sink into their camp chairs, enjoying their first beer of the day. In several places smoke is drifting above tents where people have started their morning with a braai.

Some people are playing guitar and drums, or listening to music from their car radios. Others are just sitting in the sun and enjoying a beer, or smoking a joint on a decrepit sofa they brought to the camp site.

With 70 different artists performing on four stages, this year’s festival offered a great variety of music. From an intimate performance of Dutch singer-songwriter Lucky Fonz III—who successfully performed a song in Afrikaans—to the evergreen Koos Kombuis; from talented guitarist and blues artist Dan Patlansky to the indie rock of Foto Na Dans, and not forgetting Desmond and the Tutus, Josie Field, aKing, Gert Vlok Nel, Freshlyground and the futuristic show of Kidofdoom.

Sitting in his boxer shorts in front of his tent next to his friends, Wikus Rust (24) from Pretoria is drinking Klipdrift brandy with Coke. It’s his second Oppikoppi. He says: “Beer is for breakfast. After three or four beers we change to brandy.” Next to the cool box with Coke and brandy on the camp table is a bottle of Grandpa painkillers.

According to Rust, it’s the relaxed atmosphere that makes Oppikoppi so great. “You can stop at any tent and have a party with everyone. Everyone loves each other.” He describes the real Oppikoppi feeling as “a breakaway from work and seeing some good bands”. 

Lotz, who have just had a water fight with his friend in front of the main stage, agrees. “You don’t have to worry about your financial problems. You don’t have to worry about your family problems and you don’t have to worry about your psychological problems. At Oppikoppi you only worry about were your tent is and where you can get your next beer.”

Although things have changed over the years—more and bigger stages, and more international bands on the line-up—according to Lotz “it’s always a South African jol”.

Hiding under the shade of a parasol, two “Oppikoppi virgins”—as they call themselves—Charles Vining (53) and Duncan “Moerkop” (50) watch people going by. It’s their first time at the festival and they are having a great time. “Charles said to me, we can’t die without having been at Oppikoppi, so that’s why we came here,” says Moerkop.

He describes Oppikoppi as “euphoria”, saying: “Everybody is happy, there is no agenda. You are drinking beer with people you normally won’t talk to.”

Although Oppikoppi is still mostly a white festival, over the years it has become more mixed. Watching Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse on the main stage, Moeng Laka says he likes the vibe and the music at Oppikoppi. “Here we are together as one, you can see the rainbow nation. There is no fighting, everybody is singing and dancing together.”

On Sunday morning, the bakkies, cars and an Oppikoppi bus leave the dust of Northam farm behind. It’s back to work and daily life, but the departing fans yell for the last time from of their cars: “Oppikoppieeeeee!”

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