Forgiveness: The Amy Biehl Story

Last week, I was documenting victim names from the TRC hearings and I came across the story of Amy Biehl. Biehl was a white American graduate of Stanford University. She went to South Africa as part of the Fulbright program in 1993. She was committed to making a difference in South Africa and worked tirelessly with members of the African National Congress (ANC) at the University of the Western Cape’s Community Law Centre. Sadly, her life was cut short as she was killed by a mob of angry black young people. It was a horrific story to read as she was dragged from her car and stoned to death.

The four men were convicted of her murder were granted amnesty for the crime.

When I first read this I was shocked and angry. I was further confused when I read that Biehl’s parents actually helped these men get amnesty.  This young woman reminded me of myself and I could not understand why her murderers should go free. But it is this mindset that is the most dangerous. Hatred and revenge do little to help a country heal. The purpose of these hearings was to understand the chaos of the country and provide people with a second chance. In fact, Biehl’s family supported the release of these men and even shook their hands after the hearing. They were determined to honour Amy’s love of South Africa and her belief in the truth and reconciliation process. Amy’s parents then founded a non-profit organization designed to educate and empower youth. Two of Amy’s attackers work for this organization.

The story of the Biehl family demonstrates the strength it takes not only to forgive, but to move forward. Biehl’s father and mother were able to look at these men, and instead of seeing murderers, they saw individuals who needed a second chance. They saw individuals who were destroyed by the apartheid system and resorted to violence. They did not blame those men, they blamed the system, and they wanted to work with those men to fix it.

Though I am forced to read countless stories of murder and torture in my research, reading this story gives me hope. While it is no easy feat, the acts of the Biehl family should be an example about how to forgive and look to the future. For this is the only way in which a country like South Africa can reconcile with its past.