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South Africa Honors Mother of Amy Biehl

In South Africa Tuesday, President Thabo Mbeki has bestowed one of the country’s highest honors on a white American woman.

Linda Biehl is being honored for the work done by the charitable foundation founded by Biehl and her husband, which provides training in art, music, sports and health to young South Africans. Her husband, Peter, died in 2002. The foundation in Cape Town is named after her daughter Amy Biehl, who was brutally murdered in South Africa in the closing days of apartheid.

VOA reporter Delia Robertson is following the story. From Johannesburg, she spoke to English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the life and legacy of Amy Biehl and the road to reconciliation and forgiveness.

“Amy Biehl was a student who was doing some research in South Africa on the role of women in reconciliation, basically. And she did a lot of work in the townships and worked with young people around Cape Town. And in 1993, she was taking some of the young people that she worked with home when she was attacked and very brutally murdered,” she says.

Robertson explains the award given Amy’s mother. “Linda Biehl is receiving the award, the OR Tambo Award, which is a very high national honor in South Africa. And it’s granted to people who fight for human rights and for dignity and for promoting non-racism and things of that nature. He (Mbeki) is honoring her because following the death of her daughter she and her husband established the foundation to foster non-racism in South Africa. She spends at least half of her time here in this country. She and her husband participated in the truth and reconciliation process. Her daughter was killed in 1993 in the waning months of apartheid. And she and her husband participated in the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, where they offered forgiveness to the people who had killed her daughter. They met with some of them and showed quite a rare capacity to forgive and understand,” she says.

Two of the four men convicted of killing Amy Biehl now work for the foundation founded by her parents.

Reporter Robertson says Linda Biehl, despite being an American, holds a special place in South Africa.

“In a way, she holds up a mirror to South Africans. A mirror that says you are able to forgive even when you have suffered very deeply.”