The Steve Biko Party

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

The official renaming of Pretorius Plein to Steve Bikoplein in Amsterdam in 1978.

Recently a group of yuppies and hipsters organized a party, “Steve’s Party (Het Feesje van Steve).” in the name of Steve Biko. The aim, organizing to the organizers, is to celebrate the arrival of spring on Easter Day. The only connection to the murdered South African protest leader from the 1970s is that the event is taking place at Steve Biko Square in Amsterdam. The square was originally named for an Afrikaner leader, Andries Pretorius, but was renamed Biko Plein (Dutch for square) after the activist’s death in 1977.

When pressed about using Biko’s name in vain, organizers respond that “Het Feesje van Steve” is to celebrate Biko’s birthday. “on 31 March and 1 April Steve will celebrate his first party.” The trouble is, Biko 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, then 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.


As mentioned already, Steve Biko Square is in the heart of the so-called “Transvaal neighborhood,” referencing a set of Afrikaner led republics in Southern Africa in the mid to late 19th century. The area is surrounded by streets that honor Afrikaner leaders such ad Paul Kruger, 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.  There is n 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 planned event for misplaced enthusiasm and ignorance, a mistake like this might be forgiven 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. That query was soon met with hateful remarks. These were 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 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 negroes 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 pro-Israel, Dutch-Jewish advocacy group, the Centre for 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. (Editor: The irony did not escape the CIDI.)  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 instagram images 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.

Further Reading

Back in the USSR

In 1978, exiled South African writer and leftist Alex La Guma traveled to the Soviet Union and wrote a book about it. A new, critical annotated edition is out now.