What has Steve Bantu Biko got to do with partying and spring in the Netherlands?

What has murdered Black Consciousness activist Steve Bantu Biko to do with the beginning of spring in the Netherlands? Don’t worry, you didn’t miss anything in school. Steve Biko has indeed nothing to do with the new season here whatsoever. Still, this didn’t stop a bunch of yuppies and hipsters to organize a party in his name to celebrate the arrival of spring on Easter Day: Steve’s Party

The event takes place at the Steve Biko Square in Amsterdam, to celebrate not only the beginning of spring, but–according to the event’s website–also because “the new festival season is just around the corner and the terraces are out again.” And what about Steve Biko himself? Well, in the words of the organization: “on 31 March and 1 April Steve will celebrate his first party.” (Biko, by the way, was born on December 18, 1946.)

If you want to give the organization the benefit of the doubt and place your hopes on an intern just having made a stupid mistake without consulting even Wikipedia to learn who the man actually was, well take a look at the poster. It’s the iconic picture of Biko. In a celebratory mood. In an effort to be funny or cool, the entire legacy of Steve Biko has been put aside and all that is left is Biko’s face on a poster donning a ridiculous party hat.

Place to party? Steve Biko Square, the heart of the so-called “Transvaal neighborhood”, surrounded by streets that honor Afrikaner leaders such ad Paul Kruger, Andries Pretorius and Piet Retief. (The peculiar history of South Africa and the Netherlands is something we’ll post about soon. And no, it is not just the anti-apartheid movement.) We’re not making this up:

No mention of this coincidence or its significance in any of the party promotion material.

As surprised as I was with Steve’s ‘party’, so too was I surprised to read an article by the Dutch online hipster magazine Hard/Hoofd criticizing the initiative but basically saying that in case of a misplaced enthusiasm and ignorance, a mistake like this might be forgiven since although “too often people have appropriated things without any knowledge but not everything can be brushed off with merriments.”

If you by now have turned your head to the heavens above to thank the lord for someone standing up, please just wait a minute, because the saga continues on social media. When someone on the “Steve’ Party” Facebook page asked the organizers: “Has Steve’s Party also something to do with Steve Biko himself? Or should I consider the use of his name and portrait as some kind of ironic hipster appropriation?”, the shit hit the fan. Hateful remarks were made and subsequently deleted, though we can still read some of the reactions (in Dutch). Here are two that caught my eye:

Talk about respect, I find it pretty tasteless to all publicly hate on a group of nice people with only good intentions. Since when is it wrong to organize a free party for the neighborhood?

Or worse:

Come on, it’s only about the name of a party; I haven’t seen any angry reaction from a negro because they too understand that this party has not been initiated because of anti-negro sentiments, quite on the contrary.

Now, this is not the first time something like this has happened in the Netherlands. Back in 2008, a postcard was distributed depicting Anne Frank, the Jewish girl who wrote the Diary of a Young Girl, wearing a keffiyeh. It was obvious that the artist tried to make a political statement with the image, not something we can accuse the organizers of “Steve’s Party” of doing. However, the public outcry back then was totally different. Even up to the point that the Dutch Jewish advocacy group “Centre Information and Documentation on Israel” (CIDI) called for the boycott of the image. According to CIDI, the combination of a symbol of the Holocaust with a symbol of Palestinian nationalism stood as a metaphor for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which the oppressed, represented by Anne Frank in this case, are the Palestinians. As a result of the upheaval, the postcard company halted the production and sale. (Though some websites still sell the prints.)

Steve’s Party organizers are having a blast uploading video trailers and hipstagram pictures on Facebook, like nothing ever happened. The only thing to conclude is that in the absence of a strong Black Consciousness lobby group in the Netherlands, chances are slim that the event will be cancelled, or renamed. Happy Easter, Steve.

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21 thoughts on “What has Steve Bantu Biko got to do with partying and spring in the Netherlands?

  1. It’s not just in Holland where Steve Biko is used as a selling ploy. Back here in Joburg Steve Biko is regularly on tshirts which are primarily designed to just look cool and are not really intended to make any political statement (a la Che Guevara image). Obviously there is nothing cool about being beaten to death in cell by policemen. But if people here think it’s ok to wear them I guess we should not be too hard on the Dutch partiers?! But in the end I always wonder what Steve’s friends and family think about all of this each time some gormless youth passes by in a Biko tshirt, and it makes me feel so sad.

  2. not in my name, said anne and steve
    of a sacred image taboo
    siebert sniffing out hipsters and satanists in ss copyright dawn raids
    firefighters for a fetishism of authenticity
    in an age of mechanical reproduction

  3. Yes Anne, on reflection I think they are just plain stupid combined with being the product of a generation which a political and has never known struggle. @chris. i don’t get it but it sounds cool. 🙂

  4. Lately the entire end-of-apartheid history section of the University library has been out of circulation here in Vegas, scores of books in a shelving block that was cleared for dusting I suppose, though it’s been a while. You don’t tend to learn much about America’s role in the anti-apartheid movement in school either, what people would make of a Steve Biko party is hard to guess.

    I would not have guessed about the location of Steve Biko Square though.

  5. Nice article but anyone who can read articles in Dutch can read that Hard Hoofd is not: “basically saying that in case of a misplaced enthusiasm and ignorance, a mistake like this might be forgiven”.

    Whatever your beef with online Hipster mags Serginho, do stick to the facts.

    • Criticism was milder than AIAC but still cirtical. Rough translation of the aformentioned line:

      Dutch:
      Ik wil ook zelfs nog wel aannemen dat hier sprake is van onhandigheid die is ingegeven door enthousiasme. Maar dat praat het grandioze gebrek aan smaak en respect niet goed. Te vaak eigenen mensen zich dingen klakkeloos en zonder enige kennis van zaken toe, maar niet alles is te verpakken met joligheid en knipogen. Excuses zouden dus zonder meer op zijn plaats zijn. En volgend jaar een andere naam. Dan hebben we het er niet meer over.

      ENG:
      I would also have to assume that the ensuing awkwardness might have been a result of enthusiasm. But this doesn’t excuse the grand scale tastelessness and disrespect. Too often people have appropriated things without any knowledge but not everything can be brushed off with merriments. Apologies are therefore appropriate. And next year a different name. Then we’ll say no more about it.

  6. It all boils down to intention and interpretation. The outcome however is that it caused awareness. I for one didn’t know who Steve Biko was. Now I do. Thanks to both the organisation of the festival and the critical articles.

  7. Props to Netherlands for having a Steve Biko square! You hardly find those in his home country, at least in the major towns. Only in recent years have we had a Steve Biko street in the administrative capital (Pretoria). On this alleged “steve’s party” – really? Sometimes you just got to wonder about the thinking patterns of some people. Not insulting the organizers, but I’m just wondering whether they think. Ghastly!

  8. this is beyond ridiculous, and not very surprising. It is the Netherlands after all, and they still celebrate Zwarte Piet joyously. What i want to know is where are the black activists in Amsterdam? Since being here on and off since 2006, i haven’t seen or head of anyone. That is a big problem.

    • The black activists in the Netherlands found more important things to worry about than fending off Zwarte Piet, Negerzoenen and a misplaced poster of Steve Biko. If you’re that concerned about the wellbeing of the NL try reading up on just about anything Geert Wilders is trying to do. Something that actualy affects the present day…

      • And yet you generalise an entire country on something almost trivial compared to Wilders and his subjects, and all that because you visit the place every once in a while… isn’t that how bigotry starts?

    • You misunderstood my statement. The intention is not to generalize but rather to highlight the degree to which racism and/or stereotypes is normalized in the general culture either directly or indirectly. I come from a North American culture where you think twice about watching a show where a dutch women reproduces racial stereotypes, or whatever. So Zwartepiet might seem trivial to you, but it is not to a whole race of people.

      Either ways, my interest is not in whether the Dutch are racist or not, but rather the lack of black activists in the country. Like i said, i have been coming to the country ( twice every year) for a while now, and will be living here for the whole of this year, and as such have my experiences and ties to the country.

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