Amy Biehl went to South Africa in 1993 as a Fulbright Scholar just as the country’s Apartheid rule was coming to a close. Biehl was an American student from Stanford who always had a passion for helping others and forming connections among different cultures. In South Africa, Biehl witnessed atrocities committed against people of color and frequently called home to her parents to talk about how the people of color had been oppressed for years under the government’s regime. Amy Biehl was murdered by a group of three South Africans who shouted anti-white slurs during an anti-white mob rally in August of 1993. Linda Biehl, Amy’s mother, visited Whittier College on Tuesday, October 9th to talk about the death of the daughter, and the lessons she learned about forgiveness.
After Apartheid ended, the government began the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC served to create healing within the fractured country so the new government could hear honest recollections of what crimes were committed and what led people to act in such violent ways. Biehl was killed by three black men when she drove one of her friends home to her township, Gugulethu, in Cape Town. Earlier in the week, a black activist had been killed by police so tensions were elevated. As soon as the three men saw Biehl, they dragged her out of her car and stoned her to death. The men who killed her reccounted that they assumed she was another oppressor not knowing until after her death she was also an activist. After Biehl’s death, the three men responsible for her death were each sentenced to 18 years in prison. Their sentencing made them eligible for TRC’s amnesty process once Apartheid ended.
The TRC offered amnesty of crimes committed on a case by case basis. Over 7,000 people applied for amnesty but over 22,000 victims came forward to tell their story. Diehl’s parents, Linda and Peter, were invited by Desmond Tutu, the head of the TRC by President Nelson Mandela. At the TRC, Biehl’s parents spoke about Amy’s life and the promising strides she made to see the humanity in the oppressed people. Because of the phone calls Amy’s parents received from Amy every Sunday and the writings she had done on how horrible the Apartheid was, Biehl’s parents chose to not oppose the three men who killed Amy applying for amnesty under the TRC.
Linda and Peter went beyond not opposing the men appealing for TRC. They visited the families of the men who killed Amy. When they created the Amy Biehl Foundation, they hired two of the men convicted, Easy Nofemela and Ntobeko Peni, to work on behalf of Biehl at the foundation. Biehl’s death was tragic and her life was taken too soon, but through all of the hurt, common ground was illuminated and a lot of hope came out of the situation.
Dr. Steven Gish spoke at Whittier along with Linda Biehl. He wrote the book, Amy Biehl's Last Home: A Bright Life, a Tragic Death, and a Journey of Reconciliation in South Africa which recounts the life, activism, death and reconciliation of the perpetrators. He spoke about knowing Amy at Stanford and how she was always passionate about South Africa and women’s rights. The talk demonstrates how one individual can affect multiple nations and create healing and positive change from a place of tragedy. As college students who can engage in these types of discussions, we have an ethical obligation to continue the work Amy began.