The changing face of Oppikoppi

I was convinced I was a foreigner in a hostile land.

It wasn't the dust and thorns that suprised me, but rather the feeling that I'd been introduced to something that veterans didn't want to share. This was the hallowed grounds of the Oppikoppi farm in Northam in Limpopo.

Back in 2006, as an English-speaking South African, I had it easy.

Being called a "soutie" was inconsequential compared to the treatment of some of my black colleagues on that inaugural trip.

"Wat gaan hier aan? Dis rerig a BEE produksie!" shouted a drunken partygoer from the back of a bakkie, as he passed our camp.

Besides hearing muffled cries of "kaffir" every so often, that encounter had to take the cake.

Although horrified by what I saw and heard, my colleagues took little notice of it. One brushed it off as ignorance. "I am here for the music," he said.

The festival was good enough to keep coming back and that's what I did.

Fast forward seven years and the picture couldn't be more different.

Now in its 18th year, Oppikoppi has become a full blown musical and cultural extravaganza that draws South Africans from all shapes, sizes and hues.

In 2012, Oppikoppi SweetThing attracted more than 20 000 people, eager to inhale the trademark red dust that floats through the air.

Although by far the bulk of the attendants are white, middle-class youngsters from the suburbs, there is a lot more diversity.

"Honestly, I felt a little out of place the first time I came in 2008 but now I can't get enough of it. There is no shit here. It's just Oppikoppi and everyone is here to have a good time," Jacob Baloyi, who was at his fifth Oppikoppi, told the Mail & Guardian.

Oppikoppi is no longer the preserve of any group, despite some raised eyebrows to inter-racial couples and a few old South African flags on T-shirts.

The likes of HHP, BLK JKS, Fokofpolisiekar and Seether were able to attract a more mixed audience than they usually do.

"This festival knows no boundaries. When I come here, I see people. I see nose and face and I don't see skin colour. If I can party with someone I shouldn't give a shit about who they are or where they are from," Christopher Botha told the M&G.

Besides the festival being a setting for unlikely nation building, a few gripes remain.

A far more assorted group of people are attending Oppikoppi and there are whispers that by being attractive to a larger audience, it's losing its core values.

Originally starting out in 1994, a handful of bands played to roughly 1 000 people and catered solely to a rock audience. This year the festival boasted six stages with music ranging from deep house to gypsy folk.

Although the variety of music has been welcomed, the toughness of the new carousers is being questioned.

"People are bitching about the toilets and not being able to shower. They need to make a plan for next year or just don't come. If you complain about how rough it is, stay at home," Grant Leschinsky, an Oppikopi enthusiast since 2007, told the M&G.

For the next year the debate will rage. Is Oppikoppi moving in the right direction or is the festival doomed to mediocrity as it broadens its appeal.

But why would you want to keep something as awesome as this to yourself?

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Nickolaus Bauer
Nickolaus Bauer is the Mail & Guardian's jack of all trades news reporter that chases down stories ranging from politics and sports to big business and social justice. Armed with an iPad, SLR camera, camcorder and dictaphone, he aims to fight ignorance and pessimism through written words, photographs and videos. He believes South Africa could be the greatest country in the world if only her citizens would give her a chance to flourish instead of dwell on the negativity. When he's not begging his sub-editors for an extra twenty minutes after deadline, he's also known to dabble in the occasional poignant column that will leave you mulling around in the depths of your psyche. The quintessential workaholic, you can also catch him doing sports on the weekday breakfast show on SAfm and presenting the SAfm Sports Special over the weekend.

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