One of the most remarkable stories of forgiveness had its sad beginning 25 years ago this weekend, so we reached out to the California woman whose inspiring daughter sacrificed her life to create positive change for a beautiful yet brutal country, leading her parents to do the same.
Amy Biehl was a bright, determined Stanford graduate who ventured to South Africa on a Fulbright scholarship to work in the anti-apartheid movement during its explosive final months before Mandela would become president.
She worked alongside her black comrades to register voters, and she longed to address the poverty of their squalid townships, believing that economic change was critical for any meaningful transformation. She was giving two of them a ride home when the blue-eyed blonde became a target for four angry youths who’d just left a rally where militants were calling for the death of privileged white settlers.
Despite the desperate objections of her ANC colleagues that she was ‘a comrade’, Amy was stoned and stabbed to death on a road in Guguletu township on the very corner that her parents would soon be calling ‘The Spot of Hope’.
Peter and Linda Biehl left their gated community in wealthy Orange County, motivated and haunted by reading Amy’s diaries. They flew to Cape Town and toured the townships where Amy worked and talked with her friends about the unemployment problem. Peter was a businessman, and with money pouring in to honor their daughter’s noble cause, they began to organize one development project after another—welding, sewing, a print shop, a bakery, a construction company, sports facilities, and adult literacy programs.
But the most startling development of all was the relationship that developed between Amy’s parents and her killers.
“People say, ‘well I couldn’t get together with people that harmed my loved one,’ but forgiveness is really about liberating yourself—letting go, so you can be free of hate and bitterness. It’s really a one-way street that doesn’t need the other person to do anything… Reconciliation is a different step. It’s really hard work.”
Their reconciliation process began when they talked with Bishop Desmond Tutu, who was setting up the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and would win the Nobel Peace Prize for it. The Biehls knew that amnesty would be granted to the young men whose crimes were politically motivated, and they wanted to participate to “honor” the country’s healing process.
“We did not expect to have a relationship with them, but two of the young men, after they were released from prison, saw that things hadn’t changed in their community, and they wanted to help. They had the courage to come to us, to our foundation, which was bringing jobs to young people—and we admired that,” Linda Biehl told Good News Network by telephone from Cape Town before Saturday’s anniversary celebrations began. “They were considered by some of their former comrades to be selling out to the all-American dollar.”
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