August 25 – 25th Day in Cape Town

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. 096 095 097 099 100 103 107 108 109 110 112 111 113 114 115 127 102 104 116 131 132 105 121 125 133


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.


Linda (Amy’s Mother) and Easy (one of the guys that killed her daughter)

A typical sight in Gugulethu

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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.


Me with Sindiwe Magona, author of Mother to Mother

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August 19 – Nineteenth Day in Cape Town

Today we took a tour in the townships.  Our tour was led by Clive Newman, who is a Project Manager and very passionate about history.  He began the tour at the lookout point of the Cecil Rhodes Memorial (the lower slopes of Devil’s Peak), which we had visited before.  Clive wanted to bring to our attention to how the white South Africans were currently living and I must say it is beautiful.

Clive Newman, our Township Tour Guide

Our view of the township for whites


Khayelitsha and Gugulethu grew to become the largest townships in the Cape Flats due being products of informal settlement and forced government relocations.  Informal settlements are shacks made of tin (in reality ridged iron), cardboard and wood.  They are mainly illegally occupied by Xhosa people, who were designated under apartheid as residents of Bantustans.  Almost all of the communities of the Cape Flats remain, to one degree or another, poverty stricken.  Serious social problems include a high rate of unemployment and disturbing levels of gang activity.  

Our next stop was to the Cape Flats, an expansive, low-lying flat area that has become home to people the apartheid government designated as non-white.  Our first stop was to the Memorial of the Trojan Horse Massacre, one of the incidents that demonstrated the increasing desperation of the apartheid government.  The Trojan Horse Massacre happened when three anti-apartheid protesters were killed and fifteen others wounded in a police ambush at the corner of St. Simon’s and Thornton Roads in Athlone. A group of onlookers and protesters, who were angry at the widespread Laws of Apartheid, had gathered at the corner of St. Simon’s Road. As anticipated, someone in the crowd threw a stone towards the truck as it passed.  Then the security force men arose from their hiding place and, without any warning, used automatic shotguns to fire shots into the crowd. People scattered. Michael Miranda, aged 11; Shaun Magmoed, aged 15; and Jonathan Claasen, aged 21 were gunned down, and died as a result. A further thirteen adults and two children were also injured in the shooting.

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Our next stop was to the Memorial of the Gugulethu Seven, which was an anti-apartheid group of men between the ages of 16 and 23 that were shot and killed on 3 March 1986 by members of the South African Police force. The seven men included Mandla Simon Mxinwa, Zanisile Zenith Mjobo, Zola Alfred Swelani, Godfrey Jabulani Miya, Christopher Piet, Themba Mlifi and Zabonke John Konile.  It was later uncovered that the police operation that unearthed the Gugulethu Seven’s plans, had been in the works for some time.

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Our next stop was to the Memorial of Amy Biehl, was a young American Fulbright Scholarship exchange student who studied at the University of the Western Cape in 1993 and tragically stoned and stabbed to death in Gugulethu township by young supporters of the Pan African Congress who were later granted amnesty through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  In remembrance of her, a non-profit organization, the Amy Biehl Foundation, was founded in 1997. Its mission is to “weave a barrier against violence” by focusing on social, cultural and economic empowerment through its many programs and, in so doing, restore hope and dignity to disadvantaged communities.


Our next stop was to Look Out Hill in Khayelitsha.  From there we had a spectacular view over Khayelitsha, the Cape Flats and Table Mountain.

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On our final stop, to drop Clive at home, we got to meet his lovely wife, Denise Newman, who has been a professional actress for more than 30 years.
Starting out at the Space Theater gave her the opportunity to create complex characters that resonated with truth and honesty.  With her theater work she got to work with some of the country’s great writer / directors including ATHOL FUGARD, PIETER DIRK UYS and LARA FOOT.  She trained under Alexander von Raumondt, an exponent of “Method Acting” who trained at The Actors Studio in Los Angeles.  In 1980 she was cast in her first lead role – CITY LOVERS – adapted for film from a short story by Nadine Gordimer which deals with the subject of love across the color line in apartheid South Africa.  While South Africans never got to see this film, it was screened in Europe, the UK and USA.