Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Are you related to Amy?

That is the number one question I have been asked since I got here. When people hear that my last name is Beal, they want to know whether I am related to Amy Biehl. I can't tell you how many times I have been called Amy since I arrived. It's funny, at home people want to know if I am related to Jessica Biehl, and here Amy!
Anyway, I thought I would tell you all a little bit about Amy Biehl. Amy came to South Africa when she was 26 years old as a fullbright scholar on exchange from Standford University. Amy came to South Africa at a time of great change. She was here in 1993 - right before the first democratic election. A little history:
1984-1994 South Africa was ruled by the white minority under the Apartheid government
1950 - The Group Areas Act- forced people to live in certain areas according to their race - From the 50's to 70's there was forced removal of many black and colored people from their homes. As I'm sure you can imagine, the nicest areas were reserved for whites only, while many blacks were sent to slums - which still exist today as formal townships.
1953- The separate amenities act - this meant that certain areas could be reserved for a particular race -- for example, when I first arrived in South Africa, the woman I was staying with took me to the beach - first she showed me where the white people went to the beach - a long, wide, safe beach. Then, she drove me down the road to where she, as a colored woman, went to the beach - a rocky beach that now has signs saying it is dangerous to swim. Then she said, I don't even know where the black people went to the beach but it must have been worse than this.
People were only allowed to marry people in their race group - this caused many marriages and relationships to break up. People were forced to carry passes with them indicating their race. If you were found without your pass or in a white area after a certain time, you were sent to jail. One person told me that often people would be arrested for not having their pass and then when they were released from jail and on their way home, they would be arrested for the very same offense.
In the years leading up to the time Amy arrived in South Africa, there was a lot of opposition to white rule and the racist, violent tactics the used. Many people were preaching about black conciousness - particuarly Steve Bicko
Obviously, another famous activist was Nelson Mandela. Nelson was released from prison on July 11, 1990, after serving a 27 year sentence for his anti-apartheid activism. From 1990 to 1993 there were many talks and negotiations between the government and anti-apartheid groups, such as the ANC. The African Nationalist Council has been the governing political party since 1994. So, the negotiations culminated with the first democratic election, planned for April 1994.
Amy was working to register black South Africans for the election. One night, when driving co-workers home to Guguletchu township, she was attacked and killed. Her attackers were yelling, "one settler, one bullet!". This was the slogan used be the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) during their fight against apartheid. A "settler" was defined as a white person who was active in the oppression during the apartheid. The attackers saw a white person in their community and were swept up in their anger for the white oppressor government.
The amazing thing that happened was that Amy's parent's pardoned her killers during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Amy's father shook the hands of the men who killed his daughter and said, "The most important vehicle of reconciliation is open and honest dialogue...we are here to reconcile a human life which was taken without an opportunity for dialogue. When we are finished with this process we must move forward with linked arms."
Since then Amy's parents have gone on to form the Amy Biehl Foundation , that has created many programs that work to empower youth in townships. Some of these projects include: an after school program, a reading program, music and arts program, sports program, HIV/AIDS peer training, CPR and First Aid training, the creation of a golf driving range, and much more. Some of the men who killed Amy, not work for the foundation.
I am so impressed with Amy's parents ability not only to forgive but to continue the mission their daughter started, a mission that took her away from them. Truthfully, I don't know if I could ever be so forgiving. But, I also know that with out forgiveness, you will never really be able to move forward. I hope this story will inspire you to let go of the grudges you have been holding and to really forgive. I know that forgiveness has been hard for me, but is something I am praying about and continuing to work on.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, "Our Lord would say that in the end the positive thing that can come is the spirit of forgiving. Not forgetting, but the spirit of saying, 'God, this happened to us. We pray for those who made it happen, help us to forgive them and help us so that we in our turn will not make others suffer.'"

Forgiveness is more than saying sorry...