Amy Biehl was born in 1967 in California. After graduating from Stanford, she won a Fulbright Scholarship to study in South Africa. Apartheid was still in force, and Amy was an activist against the racist policies of the white ruling class.
In 1973 she and three friends were driving to their home. Their car was stopped by a mob and Amy was dragged from the car and stabbed and stoned to death. Her possessions were stolen.
The participants in the killing were identified, tried for murder, and found guilty. Once apartheid ended, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was formed in 1995 as a quasi-court organization to help heal the country and facilitate reconciliation by uncovering the truth about human rights violations resulting from apartheid.
The TRC reviewed the murder convictions of the four persons who participated in Amy’s murder. All four were pardoned with the support of Amy’s family. The TRC found that the persons who murdered Amy had been motivated by the political environment within South Africa at the time.
Amy’s family justified their support for the pardons by the lack of open and honest dialogue that contributed to the rampant violence that had become acceptable in an apartheid society.
One year after Amy’s death, her parents set-up a foundation in her memory. The mission was to lead young people away from violence. Two of those who were later pardoned for Amy’s death became involved in the activities of the foundation.
Forgiveness is one of the 14 lessons of the South African practice of Ubuntu. The actions of Amy’s parents to her violent death are perhaps the ultimate act of forgiveness. It is a model for others who struggle with the battle between grievance/revenge and moving on with their lives by forgiving.
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“Among those we remember today is young Amy Biehl. She made our aspirations her own and lost her life in the turmoil of our transition, as the new South Africa struggled to be born in the dying moments of apartheid. Through her, our peoples have also shared the pain of confronting a terrible past, as we take the path towards the reconciliation and healing of our nation.” – Nelson Mandela in a speech accepting the Congressional Gold Medal