As I mentioned in the post for August 19, one of the Memorials we visited was Amy Biehl’s. She was a white American graduate of Stanford University and an Anti-Apartheid activist in South Africa, who was murdered by black Cape Town residents while a black mob shouted racial slurs.
In 1998 the four youths convicted of her murder were granted amnesty by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) after serving five years of their sentence – a decision that was supported by Amy’s parents. Easy Nofemela and Ntobeko Peni, two of the convicted men, now work for the Amy Biehl Foundation Trust in Cape Town, a charity which dedicates its work to putting up barriers against violence.
Today marked the 20th Anniversary of the tragic and we joined Clive Newman, who was one of the main organizers in the commemoration of her death. The commemoration started at a church service at the St. Columba; an Anglican church in Gugulethu, South Africa. What I found intriguing and a bit overwhelming about the service was the excessive use of the thurible; a metal censer suspended from chains, in which incense is burned during worship services. Burning charcoal is inside the metal censer. Incense was placed upon the charcoal. This was done several times during the service as the incense burns quite quickly. Once the incense has been placed on the charcoal the thurible is then closed and used for censing. It was used in the entrance procession; at the beginning of Mass to incense the cross and the altar; at the Gospel procession and proclamation; after the bread and the chalice have been placed upon the altar, to incense the offerings, the cross, and the altar, as well as the priest and the people; at the elevation of the host and the chalice after the consecration. It was used so much; you can see the smoke on all of my pictures.
After church we walked down the street to Amy’s Memorial site, where children from her foundation played music, people gave speeches reflecting on their experiences with and about Amy.
Later that night, we went to see Sindiwe Magona’s Mother to Mother play, which is based on her novel Mother to Mother and explores the South African legacy of apartheid through the lens of a woman who remembers a life marked by oppression and injustice. Magona decided to write this novel when she discovered that Fulbright Scholar Amy Biehl, who had been killed while working to organize the nation’s first ever democratic elections in 1993, died just a few yards away from her own permanent residence in Guguletu, Capetown. She then learned that one of the boys held responsible for the killing was in fact her neighbor’s son. Magona began to imagine how easily it might have been her own son caught up in the wave of violence that day. The book is based on this real-life incident, and takes the form of an epistle to Amy Biehl’s mother. The murderer’s mother, Mandisi, writes about her life, the life of her child, and the colonized society that not only allowed, but perpetuated violence against women and impoverished black South Africans under the reign of apartheid. The result is not an apology for the murder, but a beautifully written exploration of the society that bred such violence.