André Kamperveen: Suriname’s Tragic Legend

The small South American country of Suriname has a deep historical connection to the Netherlands and Dutch football. André Kamperveen was its first player to make that trip overseas, and his success has spurred generations of similar migrant journeys. But his life is emblematic of the horrors of military dictatorship just as much as it shows the beauty of a sports-loving independent nation.

Andre Kamperveen Suriname Netherlands Military Football Paradise
Art by Onkar Shirsekar

On 25th November 1975, Suriname became an independent nation, relinquishing its former status as a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In the turbulent years after the transition, the idea of self-sufficiency and proving there was no need for others nor hindrance from standing on their own was a guiding philosophy of the nation. The repercussions of this idea continue to this day, with dual citizenship not allowed and only the complicated structure of a sports passport, put in place in 2019, making it possible for Dutch players of Surinamese origin to represent the Surinamese national team. Large waves of emigration from Suriname to The Netherlands began around the time of independence, but the years under the military dictatorship in the 1980s also prompted many to flee the country, especially in the wake of the December Murders and the Interior War that followed.

André ‘Ampie’ Kamperveen was a multi-sport player and international sports administrator who also worked in journalism and media. He was involved in politics, holding a ministerial post for a short while. Ampie was loved as well as respected: A country boy who had achieved success not only with athletic talent and skill but also through results in the classroom (academic success being a critical component for being well seen in much of the region) all without any shortcuts or leg-ups. This is best exemplified by the many people who turned out for his funeral, despite the potential repercussions of being seen at a ceremony for someone who had been summarily executed by the military government.

Kamperveen was one of fifteen men, critics of the military government, shot at Fort Zeelandia in Paramaribo in December 1982 in the events that came to be known as the December murders. He was one of the most well-known of the victims and his many contributions in a plethora of fields were linked directly to him being targeted.

Football was certainly both his best sport and that in which he made his largest contributions. A player first, much of his initial fame came from his time playing for MVV’s football team while still completing his military service. With much of football paralyzed by the Second World War, it would not be possible for Ampie to play in the national championship nor for the national team until 1945. Making his national debut as a forward at the relatively late age of 21, given the early identification of his ability, he would captain the team within 12 months of his debut. 

MVV played in the highest division and won the national championship in 1948, with Kamperveen scoring several goals. He would play for the national team on its first-ever visit to the Netherlands, scoring the opening goal in a 2-2 draw against Ajax. Ampie scored four goals in total against clubs across the country. It would not be the last time he scored on Dutch soil.

Strangely enough, Kamperveen would play against Suriname for the Caribbean All-Star, a team which played exhibition matches in 1952 at the site of the future André Kamperveen Stadium at Cultuurtuinlaan, then referred to as ‘Owru Cul’. It’s not especially clear why the Surinamese Football Association (SVB) allowed Kamperveen, as well as Michel Kruin and former Dutch and Surinamese dual international Humphrey Mijnals, to play for the All-Stars. Ampie’s two goals in a 2-2 draw against his nation could be seen as immense hospitality to the guests.

After a year playing professionally in Brazil at Paysandu in Belem, where he became the first professional from Suriname to feature in that country, Kamperveen moved to the Netherlands. Already with an eye to the future, he studied sports management at the CIOS, a training centre for sports and physical education, and also took courses across the border at the Sportshochschule in Cologne. 

Moving from South America to Europe then, despite coming through a Dutch education system and not needing a visa, did not mean a straightforward and seamless integration into Dutch life on the field or off it. Being away from home, and facing a new climate and culture, it could be speculated that football was something that Kamperveen found necessary to continue to pursue, not only for his coursework or career prospects, but because it was familiar.

Kamperveen would become the first Surinamese player to play in the newly founded professional Hoofdklasse. Playing for HFC Haarlem, just a few kilometres away from Overveen, he would score in the KNVB Cup twice against Racing Club Heemstede. 

As part of a small group of Surinamese players in the Netherlands in the 1950s, including the aforementioned Mijnals and Herman Rijkaard, father of Frank, Kamperveen would be instrumental in raising the profile of players from the colony. He would be the only one of the three to return to Suriname permanently, though the other two continued to have an active presence in the diaspora community in the Netherlands. Rijkaard especially was involved in the integration of Surinamese who fled the political unrest and violence that took Kamperveen’s life.

Kamperveen would not live to see the plethora of Surinamese born and Surinamese-origin Dutch stars who populated the national football team of the Netherlands from the 1980s until the present day, as he died shortly after Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit made their debuts (the Dutch did not qualify for the 1982 World Cup, where Kamperveen in his capacity as a FIFA Vice President was on the field for the opening ceremony). 

Given the close connection between Suriname and the Netherlands, and his own experience playing at the top level in the two countries, Kamperveen took a great interest in the Surinamese presence in De Oranje. He has been quoted as predicting the arrival of many players of quality with Surinamese roots into top leagues, though it is unlikely he envisaged their near-ubiquity. This is not just simple pride in representation. Identity and the conceptualisation of what it means to be Surinamese is something still being defined in this relatively young country. It is in football, as much as any other field, that we see the cosmopolitan influences, where style is affected both by proximity to great South American teams and by Dutch coaching systems

It is too linear to say Kamperveen impressed the Dutch and so they invited Surinamese players over, but it would also be naïve to imagine that, as the first player to make the move, he would have had no impact. Certainly, the large Surinamese diaspora in the Netherlands is a result of both colonial ties and later political instability, both of which impacted Kamperveen directly. As one of the major football administrators in the country’s history, Kamperveen can be partially credited with the continued popularity of the sport at an organised level.

Kamperveen made an expected transition to management in 1958 at the young age of 33. That same year, he was both appointed coach of the national team and began managing SV Transvaal. Initial success eluded him, and he faced the ignominy of overseeing a 9-2 loss to the Netherlands in his first year in charge, still Suriname’s heaviest defeat to date. With irregular international football matches in this era, 1960 was the first chance to bring some level of improved performance, and a rematch with the Dutch ended in a more respectable 4-3 loss. 

Kamperveen finished his career as national team coach with Suriname’s first attempt at World Cup qualification where, despite only playing two matches with a win and a draw, the team was knocked out of contention for the finals in Chile.

SV Transvaal was where he would have much more success in management, winning the team’s first national title in eleven years and their fifth overall. After Ampie’s retirement, Transvaal won five titles in a row between 1965 and 1970.  Perhaps it could be said he left having set the team up for success. 

The 1960s had not just been a time for football and judo. Never one to sit quietly, Kamperveen had interests outside of just sports administration and management. In 1963 he founded and became the first chairman of the Association of Sports Journalists in Suriname. In the 1950s, he had also been the director of a weekly sports newspaper (SOK) and would make the jump to television in 1968 with a weekly sports program, just two years after the first Surinamese television station went on air. Having been involved with early live radio broadcasting of football matches, and working in radio since the 1950s, Kamperveen would go on to own his own radio station, a personal dream of his, in 1975 when he set up Radio ABC (Ampie’s Broadcast Corporation). The station enjoyed immediate popularity and provided a platform for many diverse formats and subjects, with Kamperveen himself enjoying widespread fame from the children’s program Het Klokje van Zeven. This independent platform would play no small part in the run-up to the events of the December Murders.

Through his radio and television presence, Kamperveen had universal appeal, with fans outside the world of football. Martial arts are very popular in Suriname and Kamperveen, who opened the first judo dojo in Paramaribo, was instrumental in the history of combat sports in the country. He spread the sport to the districts and even found time to graduate judokas at halftime during Transvall matches It would have been difficult to find someone in the sporting world, or even the country in general, who had not heard of him by the 1970s.

His career already reflected significant successes but the field of football administration, which he entered after coaching, would be the one in which he rose highest. Already a SVB board member after leaving SV Transvaal in 1964, he was made a member of the Concacaf disciplinary committee, and shortly afterwards had his first stint on the board of Concacaf. This relatively short appointment of one year was cut short when Kamperveen became a vice president of FIFA. He would become the first president of the CFU on its formation in 1978 and again a Concacaf board member, in 1980. He would hold all these posts for the rest of his life and be recognized for his achievements by being inducted into the Concacaf hall of fame in 1990, the only Surinamese to be included to date.

In the eighties, Ampie added politics to his extensive CV. Despite no real background in politics and no record of being involved in an official way in the transition to independence, in 1980 he was appointed the Minister of Sport. It was easy to make such an appointment in March 1980 and face no political pushback, not just because of Ampie’s popularity in the country, but because a month earlier there had been a military coup. This event made it possible to select anyone for a role and have no challenge, since democratic processes had been suspended. 

Suriname, less than 5 years after becoming independent, would have no elections for the next 7 years due to political direction pursued by the National Military Council (NMR), who had conducted the coup. 

There was also no pushback because, in 1980, it was not immediately apparent which political direction the military officers would take, nor exactly whether the impact of the coup on the country could turn out to be a positive step. In the years after independence, unemployment levels rose dramatically and the economy deteriorated, partly due to the speed at which the transition to independence had been carried out. The democratically elected party faced questions about their suitability to lead on issues such as social unrest stemming from allegations of corruption and fraud. Against this backdrop, when the coup deposed the government, many people were willing to wait and see what would happen and even hoped that the change of government would turn out to be the first step toward a better state of affairs.

It is during this tumultuous time that Kamperveen accepted the job as a minister,  a position he believed could lead to positive changes. It would take two years for him to become disillusioned and resign his post in mid-1982. In his resignation speech, he says:

“I put in a lot of effort for two years. I have helped build a ministry that is an achievement of the revolution. I have fulfilled my task not only with love, but in good conscience. I love my country and will continue to serve my country and continue the fight against injustice .”

While he did not agree with the direction the NMR was taking, he seemed to hold cordial relations and perhaps even trusted military leaders, inviting the then-leader of the military to his fifty-eighth and last birthday celebration. The trust wasn’t mutual and Kamperveen himself may have overestimated his understanding of how different the military was compared to his own time in the service. The world of football administration, for all its political manoeuvring, remained an entirely different prospect from that of real dictatorships. Ampie may have misunderstood the limit of his ability to change things in government in the same way he had at FIFA, or perhaps he just had no way to guess just how far things would go.

ABC Radio remained popular despite changes in government, and by 1982 was one of the places where it was possible to hear criticism of the military junta. As one of the most popular voices in the country, he may have assumed he would be allowed to speak freely, and certainly the violence that would come was unprecedented. But even if it had not been, it seems that Kamperveen’s moral code would have ensured he spoke out about what he saw as unfair, even if it put him at risk.

ABC Radio would not keep this role of an independent platform for critique for very long, as the repercussion of this criticism would be the burning down of the station in December 1982 by soldiers for being a so-called “stronghold for counter-revolutionaries”

Kamperveen himself would not live to see his beloved radio station torched. On the night of 7th December 1982, the same night the station was attacked, he was taken by soldiers at 2 a.m. to Fort Zeelandia, where he and others who had opposed the military regime in various ways were given an expedited “trial”, after which they were shot. Claims and counter-claims abound, with the circumstances unlikely to ever be definitively cleared up, as the victims were buried without post-mortem or legal investigation. Many of the victims showed signs of torture and had been shot in the front, contradicting the official narrative that the captives were gunned down while running away. 

As of September 2021, guilty verdicts have been handed down to members of the National Military Council via military court. These verdicts are being appealed.

Six years after his death, the National Stadium was renamed the André Kamperveen stadium, serving to commemorate the importance of the man himself. By 1987 elections had been held and the new Surinamese government lost no time in paying their respects to Kamperveen with the renaming. As they would remain in power for just two more years before another coup by many of the same members of the Surinamese National Army (SNL), it could be said they had not acted hastily in getting the renaming done. Several years later, to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Surinamese Football Association (SVB), a statue of Kamperveen was erected outside the stadium. At no time, despite how difficult it must have been to retain it, was changing the name of the stadium away from the André Kamperveen stadium considered seriously and to some effect, it served as a symbolic remembrance. Perhaps it still does.

The impact of Kamperveen on football in Suriname was immense, as anniversaries for a stadium and the national team itself were celebrated by recognizing him. Normally conflation of the two would seem to be willfully ignorant or even disrespectful of the other players or administrators who contributed to the national team, but it would be hard to find anyone on record who shows disappointment in the renaming of the stadium or the erection of the statue. Instead there is recognition, for the need for remembrance of someone who gave the utmost of all his talents, and finally his life as well. 

Shastri Sookdeo

S.R. Sookdeo was born in Toronto and grew up in Trinidad and Tobago. He is often found discussing the impact of football on identity.