Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer
Another milestone of furry fandom has been achieved on 14-17 July 2017, when South African furs held South Afrifur, their first convention.
The size and longevity of furry fandom in South Africa have been difficult to determine, due to the large spread-out size of that country, with apparently only a pawful of fans in any one city. The ZA furs (from Zuid-Afrika, the Afrikaans name – see the history of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek from 1852 to 1902) socialize primarily via the Internet. There are currently about 600+ active through all the ZA furry websites and chat groups. But it is estimated that the majority of them are only casual browsers, and only 200 to 300 should be considered true ZA furs.
As to longevity, that goes back to two previous ZA furmeets. Some claim that they were conventions, but the attendees themselves did not despite their including registrations.
On 12-16 2008, the first national ZA furry get-together was held in the Cape Town suburb of Table View. Dracius was the organizer. He booked “At Cheryl’s”, a self-catering accommodation holiday house including five small buildings; a house, cottage, cabana, condo, and den. (The exact location was At Cheryl’s, 50 & 55 Circle Road, Table View, South Africa.)
There were 16 attendees. At Cheryl’s was primarily a gathering place for daytime socializing and evening activities. Daytime events included wandering into two shopping centers and other places around Cape Town, and a trip up its Signal Hill. In the evening there were films on a projector and the game Guitar Hero.
A second get-together was planned for 2010, but it was not held until 7-15 January 2011, in Port Elizabeth. The organizers were Nanukk, Electrocat, and Cat147. The venue was Nanukk’s grandmother’s house in the suburb of Blue Water Bay. 14 attended.
The meet was very relaxed and informal. It consisted of about an equal amount of time getting to know each other around the house while sketching and gaming, and going out to see various sites in the city. Some of the main events that had been organized were going to a Karaoke bar, car-pooling to a lion park (cut short when one of the cars got a flat tire) and a visit to a museum (with a behind-the-scenes tour), snake park and aquarium.
The highlight of the meet was when three furs dressed up in fursuits made by Electrocat and spent the evening walking around at a local shopping center. The suits created a lot of attention, and some questions from curious onlookers, but had the biggest effect on the children. Half of the children found the suits fascinating while the other half were terrified, freezing in place or bursting into tears at the sight of them. The day was then finished off by playing putt-putt in the fursuits, a game which Nanukk won.
Jako Malan estimates that the dominant personality there was Electrocat, already an accomplished artist and fursuit maker. She was a driving force behind the meetup, organized its outings, and sketched all during it. Most attendees were 18 or younger, and activities at the venue were mostly video games, sketching, and socializing.
After that, there was a long dry spell. A third meetup was suggested several times over the internet, but nobody organized one, even though there were some furry parties that far exceeded this. The record was a one-day braai (Afrikaans for a barbeque) in Johannesburg hosted by Victor on 30 July 2016 that had 37 attendees; although one in Pretoria in 2009 had 25, and another at Yukon’s in Jo-burg in 2012 had 24. (They claimed 25 – 24 plus Yukon’s Siberian husky — to match the previous record.) Some wanted to hold a real convention, but the small size of ZA furry fandom made this impossible.
During 2015 and 2016 a group of organizers gathered to work out a solution; Ivic Wulfe, Yukon, Scratch, YoteFox, Powercat, Valerion, and Dan Leo. (If they had been more formal, Ivic would have been chairman, with Yukon as his vice-chair, Scratch as the treasurer, YoteFox in charge of furry decorations (he gave the panels on fursuit making), and Powercat as website designer.) They took Canada’s Camp Feral! as their inspiration, and corresponded with Potoroo, the Camp Feral! director. Their target date was in 2016, but various problems pushed it into 2017.
The final date was 14-17 July 2017. It was organized and advertised as a convention, South Afrifur, with a website, although it was never expected to be more than tiny by furry convention standards. The venue, another rental vacation retreat, had a maximum attendance limit of 48. It was located in a little town, Magaliesburg, near the small city of Krugersdorp. Still, Krugersdorp was conveniently located about equidistant from Pretoria and Johannesburg, two of South Africa’s largest cities.
(Actually, Magaliesburg was a substitution. The original venue was the University of the Free State Open Residences in Bloemfontein, a major city, but it had cancelled the booking at the last minute due to “emergency renovations” – generally believed to be second thoughts by the University about hosting a furry convention. The Magaliesburg Retreat near Krugersdorp, 412 km. (about 4 hours driving) away, was a good – some said better – substitute, because it was more convenient to both Pretoria and Jo-burg, and because, being in a small town rather than a large city, it felt more exclusive.)
The ZA Furries site coordinated carpooling from Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Pretoria; the cities and the Jo-burg and Pretoria airports. The Magalies Retreat venue included accommodation for up to 48 furs, catering, a dining hall, a conference area, a private deck, pool, and boma, and many on-site activities.
Full attendance included all meals (3 meals a day) and accommodation for 3 days, plus a personalized-art badge by Electropaw Artworks (Electrocat’s business name). The price was R1500,00. (The South African rand was worth $0.078 dollars, or 7.8¢, in July 2017.) Sponsors paid R2000,00 and received the above plus a convention T-shirt. Super sponsors paying R2500,00 received all that plus having their T-shirt personalized with their fursona name on it, and a set of furred ears by YoteFox.
Attendees were requested to register in advance, for meal planning and to allow Electrocat time to prepare the personalized badges. The organizers were prepared to accept members at the door at a discounted rate, but in fact there were no attendees except those who had preregistered.
A controversial rule was that attendance was limited to those 18 years old and older, for legal reasons.
Attendance was 28, including the organizers; 27 ZA furs and Bravura from Switzerland (founder of furry.fm). The breakdown was 6 regular members, 7 sponsors, 13 super-sponsors, and 2 of the organizers’ assistants who could not afford a membership and had their memberships bought for them.
(A few prominent ZA furs could not attend for various reasons, including Electrocat who drew the badges, and Furnix Wolf who gave his membership to Victor.)
Activities included an impromptu Artists’ Alley/Dealers’ Den, free to all attendees. A scavenger hunt. An obstacle course. A Gladiator Arena. A movie night (the Russian feature Wolves and Sheep and the U.S. feature The Secret Life of Pets). Panels on writing, on fursuit making, on fursuiting. And on social media as related to furries. A quiz night. A raffle. A variety of board games.
The Artists’ Alley/Dealers’ Den had four exhibitors, including Jako Malan who sold his recently-published novel reWritten, and Landi who sold sketches for two charities (a pet sterilization center and a no-kill home for abandoned cats and dogs). She raised R1000,00 for each. This was in addition to an official convention charity, the Garden Route Wolf Sanctuary. R2130,00 was collected for it, and matched by the committee, for a total of R4260,00.
One amusing detail was the number of people that backed out of doing the Gladiator Arena once they had seen it. The equipment was from an old popular South African TV show, MTN Gladiators. Although it was booked and paid for 18 attendees to use it, only 4 were brave enough to complete it in the end. It was rather physically taxing, and a lesson that most furries aren’t ones for strenuous physical activities.
Overall, South Afrifur was considered a success. There were some pre-convention complaints about the 18 age limit and the small convention-size limit, the move from a major city to Krugersdorp, and the “unpreparedness” of the committee (which had never even attended a furry convention before, much less organized one). But the attendance of only 28 in a venue for 48 showed that the committee was wise in not planning for a larger attendance.
There are already some calls for another ZA furry convention next year; maybe without the age limit. It is believed that more of South Africa’s estimated 200 or 300 fans did not attend because they were skeptical of South Afrifur’s success. With it now proven, a larger attendance at a next convention is almost definite.
There were no articles about South Afrifur in a newspaper or on local TV news. This was by design on the organizers’ part. In fact, after the cancellation of the convention’s original venue (who required the right to monitor the convention’s activities), the committee downplayed the convention’s furry nature when booking the Magalies Retreat. (Its staff was heavily Christian.) The most prominent media report on ZA furs’ activities in the past had been a 2009 extremely lurid piece strongly implying that furry fandom was all about having sex in fursuits. Ever since then, ZA furs have not sought any publicity. As it happened, the staff at the venue were most accommodating in every way, and the attendees felt welcomed at the venue throughout the four days; but it was felt wisest to not encourage the venue to Google for bad stereotypes before the convention’s arrival.
The following is a Con Report provided by Con Chairman, Ivic Wulfe
Con Report – South Afrifur 2017
So the first South Afrifur Convention has come to an end. New things were tried and seemed to be successful overall. In this report I will attempt to outline some of the particulars of the convention and also evaluate to what extent they were successful.
Before I begin, I would like to start with a personal note of thanks to everyone who came to the convention. There were 28 attendees including myself as Chairman and Yukon as Vice-Chair and our con staff – Scratch, Power Cat, Yote Fox, Dan Leo.
Our members of staff were the glue that kept this idea together. They were the ones that truly put up their paws and claws when things took unexpected turns and allowed us to move forward and make this convention a success. I am eternally grateful to the team.
South Afrifur started as an ambitious idea. Its roots in the earlier successes of national furmeets held in 2008 and 2010, respectively. The staff members had thought about creating a platform that would incorporate many elements of more established furry conventions. These include: some form of artist alley, panel discussions, activities as well as having a cause to donate to through a charitable raffle. It made sense to keep it small (initial thoughts of a cap at 50 people) and have it located somewhere as central (within South Africa) as possible.
We also wanted to (at least for the first convention) keep the minimum age for attendance to 18. This is because we were unprepared and unwilling to have to deal with the legal ramifications that may crop up otherwise. South Africa is still a very conservative country with an aversion to anything new. We wanted to ensure that we could at least begin to achieve something before we considered something as potentially difficult as lowering the admissible age requirements.
Most of the points on this checklist were met. We are proud to announce that we have raised R2130, 00 from the community. Proceeds payable to the Garden Route Wolf Sanctuary http://wolfsanctuary.co.za/.
Wolves are not native to South Africa and the majority of their benefactors are abandoned exotic pets. In addition to wolves, the sanctuary also cares for other wild canines. Because of recent wildfires in the area, we thought it pertinent to donate funds to them. The amount will be matched by South Afrifur, bringing the total donation to R4260, 00
Despite overall success, the convention had its fair share of challenges – even before getting off the ground. Initial planning for it had started in 2015 and the convention was meant to happen in 2016. This year presented many challenges, like arguments about where the con should be held, pricing, slow responses from venues and at times a fair amount of pushback from furs themselves. Due to these reasons the convention had to be postponed to 2017.
At a point where most planning was already done, the original venue (University of Free State Open Residences) cancelled. We had to find a new venue at just about the last minute. We chose another venue just outside of Gauteng for similar pricing to that of UFS. The venue that was decided on was Magalies Retreat. http://www.magaliesretreat.co.za/
Pricing and how the money was used:
The admission prices were as follows: R1500.00 for con-goers, R2000.00 for sponsors and R2500.00 for super sponsors. The first tier price included three nights’ accommodation, three meals a day, hall area that could seat 50 people as well as payment for the venue’s activities as well as a personalized badge from Electrocat Artworks. The sponsor tier price included a personalized t-shirt with the sponsor’s furry name on it. The super sponsor tier price also included a set of personalized, furred ears done by one of our speakers (and resident fursuiter and fursuit maker) YoteFox.
Successes and Shortcomings:
It was important to find a balance between affordability, travel requirements and an environment that would attract more attendees. In hindsight, Magalies Retreat served this purpose far better than our original choice would have. Bloemfontein was initially considered because it is physically halfway between Cape Town and Johannesburg the two main areas of furry concentration. Camp Feral had been a personal inspiration in respect to vibe and the relative size of our active furry community. This was validated by some of the feedback already received from some of the attendees.
In respect to the venue, the food was good, the activity areas were somewhat unkempt and in varying states of disrepair, the obstacle course and the Gladiator Arena were, given these states still in relatively good working order nonetheless. Given a lot of our previous planning, changing the venue actually opened up many more options and it did come together quite well in the end and furs were kept busy throughout the convention.
There was some backlash in respect to our decision on age caps, relative distance to get to the convention, size of the convention, as well as what could be considered our “unpreparedness” for the entire event. Given these concerns I believe we allayed many of those voices but will endeavour, in future, to hear what the community wants from South Afrifur in 2018.
Venue and Activities:
The list of events were; an ad hoc artists alley (which was opened for anyone to join in at no cost), a scavenger hunt, an obstacle course, a gladiator arena (near-miss head injury to myself notwithstanding), a movie night as well as three panel discussions. One panel was on writing, one on fursuit making and fursuiting in general. The other on social media within the context of furries. Other activities include quiz night and the raffle. Ample time was given for socialization, which includes the playing of a variety of board games.
From those who attended, the majority response was positive. Attendees enjoyed the convention and its ability to bring the small group of furs together much like Camp Feral does. We had actually spoken quite a lot to Potaroo in our initial planning phase and this was exactly the kind of response we were aiming for as our first convention.
Going into this endeavour as far back as 2015, I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about it. I had the dream that furs would appreciate someone taking initiative and get something of the sort going. I for one would have been ecstatic had someone else come up with the idea and would have tried to be as supportive toward it as possible. This was not the case in many of the interactions I’d had. I however kept plugging, found people who were as keen as I to see this move forward. Those who helped me were very good at the specific tasks that were required of them. Our vice-chair Yukon, for organizing the events and activities as well as his ability to manage many other aspects that were necessary for the convention to be a success, Valerion for his experiences of the previous failures between the successes of 2008-2012, Scratch for his ability to manage funding down to the cent. Dan Leo for his ability to mediate and Power Cat for his experience in website building. Without these fine folk, South Afrifur Convention 2017 might not have happened, or not have been as successful.
On a Personal note:
I’d spent many days, even during the convention, just hoping that everything would go as planned and whenever a positive comment came my way, my inability to commit to the success showed in my responses. Much of this was an introspective journey for me and having this success behind me, I believe that we can do far better than this for next year. “Build it and they will come.”
The acid test of success would be whether we can host an even better convention next year. To stimulate a larger turnout. To ensure that whatever issues within our control have been dealt with and succeed in ensuring that we can have good conventions. Perhaps even on a yearly basis. I believe that we as the South African Furry Community can pull this off. As for the South Afrifur team, I wish us all the best of luck. I think we may just need it.
South Afrifur Convention Chair
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