Amy Biehl Kiling:
PAC activists seek pardon
In August 1993, 26 year old Amy Biehl - a white American exchange student from Newport Beach, California, was completing a 10-month research fellowship at Cape Town?s mainly-black University of the Western Cape. She had been awarded the scholarship after showing great interest in African affairs while at Stanford University in the United States. These were the ailing days of Apartheid and many black activists, sensing the impending death of the oppressive white system, stepped up their agitation for a speedy exit for the minority government with rallies and demonstrations.
Amy Biehl was to get caught up in all this with tragic consequences. As part of her project, she spent several months visiting black townships in the Cape Town area to conduct voter education workshops. Like many anti-apartheid sympathisers, she sensed the end of minority white rule, but coming from a more politically sophisticated country, she realised that rhetoric alone would not bring true equality to Black people, after the collapse of apartheid. The township peoples had to be taught the importance of voting, otherwise, many of their potential gains would never be achieved. It had happened where she came from. Political apathy within the African-American community had led to the continuing decline of their influence in America vis-a-vis their numerical size.
In the few months she spent in the townships, she won the respect and affection of the local people. In August 25, a day before she was to return to the United States, while driving three black female friends back home in the Guguletu township, she was confronted by a rampaging mob of mostly Pan Africanist Congress supporters.
At that time, the Pan Africanist Congress was part of the multi-party talks that led to 1994 democracy elections but the party had not abandoned its armed struggle. It did not do so until shortly before the election, in which it won two percent of the vote. The mob that killed Amy Biehl had just participated in a meeting at which members of the Congress? armed wing urged attacks on white people and chanted their slogan, ?one settler, one bullet!?
When the Young black men spotted Biehl, they were incensed by her presence. They stopped the car, pulled her from it, and hit her in the face with a brick. She broke away but was caught and stabbed repeatedly. As the mob surrounded her, her friends protested that she was sympathetic to the Black struggle, to no avail. She was stoned, beaten and - as she lay bleeding - stabbed to death. Her death prompted widespread outrage both in South Africa and internationally and a manhunt resulted in the arrest, trial and sentencing of four of her killers to 18 years in jail. Amy?s women friends had testified against the killers in spite of threats against them. Today, the killers are applying for amnesty under the Truth and Reconciliation law.
One of her killers, Ntobeko Peni, was just 18 years old when he hurled two stones at Amy as she laying bleeding on the ground, and he later watched as she was stabbed. He told the Truth Commission and a public gallery which including Amy?s parents, Linda and Peter Biehl, that it would not have made a difference to Amy?s life if he had known she was a comrade because he supported his party?s campaign to restore ?white-owned? land to Black people. According to Peni, ?at the time, we were in very high spirits and the white people were oppressive, we had no mercy for the white people. A white person was a white person to our eyes.?
He however expressed remorse his actions: ?I feel sorry and very downhearted. Especially today, realising the contribution Amy Biehl played in the struggle. When I look closely at what I did, I realise that it was bad. I ask Amy?s parents, Amy?s friends, relatives, I ask them to forgive me. Just to hear that they have forgiven me, would mean a great deal to me. For me it would be starting a new life.?
Mr. And Mrs. Biehl say the truth and reconciliation process is a monument to the new South Africa and its struggle to be truly united and free. They have promised not to oppose their child?s killers? application for amnesty. But even that would not guarantee the freedom of the killers. Under the Truth Law, their lawyers would have to prove that the killing was purely politically motivated, if they are to have any chance of pardon. The hearing ended on July 9th but it would take months before the men know their fate.
PS: A South African film producer has begun work on a movie about Amy Biehl. ?The story of this young American woman needs to be told as she is a role model for people everywhere,? said Anant Singh, whose previous productions include ?Sarafina!? and ?Cry, the Beloved Country?. Singh said he had obtained rights to the Amy Biehl story from the student?s parents, Peter and Linda Biehl, two years ago. Work has begun on the script and filming is due to begin next year.