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Reconciliation over slavery remembrance

23 June 2008 - Next week, Amsterdam will remember its role in the slave economy that was abolished 145 years ago. After years of rivalry, there seems to be reconciliation between the official remembrance at the Oosterpark and its 'radical little brother' at the Surinameplein.

There have been annual remembrances at the Surinameplein for fifteen years. When the national government created a Slavery Monument at the Oosterpark in 2002, which was to be the site of the official annual remembrance, some people thought the remembrance had been co-opted and relegated to an inconspicuous location.

It was decided to continue the remembrances at the Surinameplein. Five years ago, NRC Handelsblad called this remembrance the 'radical little brother' of the official remembrance.

Last year, Kenneth Renfrum became the new chairman of the organisation behind the Surinameplein remembrance, the Amsterdam 30 June - 1 July Centre Foundation. Renfrum says he has a pretty good collaboration with the official remembrance. This year, he will for the first time attend the remembrance at the Oosterpark.

Renfrum says he does not believe in the confrontational style his foundation used to have in the past. "They wanted all undocumented immigrants to be legalised. They wanted Surinamese elderly to receive a full state pension. They haven't achieved those objectives".

His organisation will focus on Amsterdam's role in the management of the slave economy. On 30 June, it will present a brochure on the relation between Amsterdam and slavery, including a city map indicating the locations that were related to slavery (in 2002, the KIT published an arty booklet on the same topic).

Well-known examples include the current Palace at Dam Square and the current official residence of the Mayor (Herengracht 502). Both buildings were used by key administrators of the West Indies Company who were responsible for matters related to slavery.

As far as Renfrum is concerned, there will also be a memorial at the Museumplein. In 1883, 28 'half-naked Blacks and Indians' from Surinam were put on display here as part of a world exhibition.

De Baarsjes district has made a substantial contribution to the making of the brochure. According to Renfrum, the chairman of de Baarsjes, Arco Verburg, has agreed to help give lessons on the history of slavery at local schools and to try to get other local politicians involved as well.

Renfrum says his organisation not only wants to organise remembrances, but also wants to advice the municipality on matters related to the Afro-Surinamese community, especially in the field of education. He says that there are only a few Surinamese organisations and that these are preoccupied with studying the criteria for subsidies.

He says the success of football players of Surinamese descent has obscured the fact that many Surinamese Amsterdammers are in a disadvantaged position. "If I park my car illegally in Amsterdam Zuid, chances are the wheel clamp will be attached by someone looking like me", he says, suggesting that many Surinamese have low-paid jobs.

Renfrum is going to ask alderman Freek Ossel to fund a trip to the Ghana gold coast from where slaves were shipped overseas, as a way to commemorate the abolition of slavery 145 years ago. This would be a good way to invest in the relations with the Surinamese community, as well as an excellent gift after two hundred years of slavery, he says.

Part of that community was outraged over the way in which Ossel's predecessor, Hennah Buyne, would have been pressurised to step down. Reportedly, people close to Ossel like the idea of the trip, provided not only Surinamese but also Dutch and Antillean people participate. Renfrum emphasises that he will not participate himself.

Renfrum has worked for the employment office and currently owns a private employment agency, Buro Intro. He has been active in a basketball association, in an organisation providing homework coaching and for a short while, he was a board member of the Kwakoe summer festival in Amsterdam Zuidoost.

He is not to be confused with the current director of the successor of the Kwakoe festival, Kenneth Renfurm.

Image: 2006 remembrance . © Stichting Amsterdams Centrum 30 juni - 1 juli


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