Mandela inspires woman after her daughter’s death

By Bryan Richardson

Love can go a long way.

Linda Biehl spoke Wednesday about how lessons from her daughter and from Nelson Mandela helped her forgive her daughter’s killers.

Her daughter, Amy Biehl, was killed by a mob in an act of political violence in South Africa in Aug. 25, 1993.

Her lecture, “Personal Reflections on Nelson Mandela’s Legacy,” took place at the Holiday Inn at the Campus as part of K-State’s Vern Larson International Lecture Series sponsored by Friends of International Programs.

Biehl used quotes from Mandela, the former South African president who died Dec. 5.

“People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite,” Mandela once said.

The concept of teaching love shaped Linda’s belief in restorative justice, which involves focusing on peace and reconciliation for everyone involved rather than punishment.

Linda, who met Mandela through work in Amy’s memory, said he provides inspiration for those seeking to deal with injustice.

“I think his lessons need to be carried on,” she said. “Some of us really have to take the torch and carry it forward.”

These are lessons that Linda said Amy would have taken to heart.

Linda said her late husband would describe Amy as “a non-violent but passionate freedom fighter.”

Amy, who put “Free Mandela” on her cap during graduation at Stanford, was in South Africa after winning a Fulbright Scholarship.

She studied the role of women and gender rights during South Africa’s transition from the apartheid regime to democracy.

“She lived her 26 years very fully,” Linda said.

Linda and her late husband, Peter, created the Amy Biehl Foundation Trust to develop and empower youth living in challenged and vulnerable communities in the Western Cape of South Africa.

Linda said the foundation’s work has helped empower her.

“I have done things that I’ve never expected to do,” Linda said. “It becomes a bit addictive. What do I do next?”

Forgiving the killers of their daughter is one of the things that Linda and her husband were able to do.

South Africa established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1996 to investigate human rights violations from the apartheid era, allowing both the victims and perpetrators of violence to give testimony.The goal was to help the country begin coming together.

“There is healing in telling your story,” Linda said.

Those who committed violence could be granted amnesty as long as the crimes were politically motivated and the people seeking amnesty told the complete truth.

The Biehls supported amnesty for the four black South Africans who killed Amy, which they received.

Linda said Amy’s death came from the desire to end apartheid by the mob who saw white people as the enemy.

“Their childhoods had been taken away from them,” Linda said of Easy and Ntobeko. “They became members of movements. They learned to fight. They learned to make bombs. They were willing to sacrifice their lives and eventually ready to kill because they weren’t getting results peacefully.”

Two of the four convicted in Amy’s death - Easy Nofemela and Ntobeko Peni - now work for the Amy Biehl Foundation helping youth.

“It was an amazing process that had an unexpected outcome and that was a personal reconciliation,” Linda said.

Terrie McCants, K-State conflict resolution program director, took K-State’s first student tour to South Africa last May.

The first stop was at the foundation where the group saw forgiveness in action.

“I didn’t realize at the time we were being hosted by two murderers of Amy Biehl,” McCants said. “It was halfway through their presentation that we realized. It took us aback.”

Members of the group that went to South Africa attended Linda’s speech Wednesday.

Brett Mallon, a graduate student in political science, said he was able to find hope in the people of South Africa despite the country’s history.

“Where you would expect to see the most despair, sometimes you would find the brightest hope,” he said.

Allison Hein, a senior in family studies, said she went in the hopes of discovering herself, leading her to develop what she felt was important.

“We need to take a more active role in becoming social justice activists,” she said. “Culturally developing ourselves and experiencing a variety of cultures even within our own country.”

Amy, in one of her last journal entries, wrote about building on her experiences and doing something meaningful.

“I hope that I can give something back to the world (I’m not trying to be some kind of idealist, but I do believe this)...and here I go,” Amy said.

Linda said the foundation is turning inward to the U.S., helping with the development of curriculum at schools.

“We hope Amy would be proud of us,” Linda said.

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