23 April 2008
South Africa has awarded one of its highest civilian honours to a Chicago-born mother who became an international peace activist and motivational speaker following her daughter’s tragic death in Cape Town.
On Monday, Linda Biehl was among the thirty-eight recipients of National Orders for exception contributiongs to the benefit of the country.
President Thabo Mbeki awarded Biehl with the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo (bronze class) for “displaying outstanding spirit of forgiveness in the wake of the murder of her daughter and contributing to the promotion of non-racism in post-apartheid South Africa.”
On 25 August 1993, Biehl’s daughter, Amy, an American Fulbright scholar working in South Africa against apartheid, was beaten and stabbed to death in Gugulethu, a township near Cape Town.
In 1998 the four young men 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.
‘We took our strength from Amy’
“We took our strength in handling the situation directly from Amy,” Biehl told BuaNews on Tuesday after receiving the order at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. “She was intensely involved in South African politics, and even though the violence leading up to free elections had caused her death, we didn’t want to say anything negative about South Africa’s journey to democracy.”
Biehl said she did not look at herself as a victim but as an agent of change.
While some people accused the Biehls of supporting criminals, the foundation they had started in their daughter’s name was all about preventing young South Africans from committing crime.
“I have come to believe passionately in restorative justice,” Biehl said. “It’s what South Africans call ‘ubuntu’ – to choose to forgive rather than demand retribution; a belief that my humanity is inextricably caught up in yours.”
‘The story of what and who we are’
Speaking during Monday’s ceremony, Mbeki said the Orders where awarded to those who deserved high tribute for what they had done to enrich others’ lives, making it possible for South Africa to call itself an adherent of the ancient values of ubuntu.
“The honours that we bestow today tell the story of what and who we are, of what and who we shall be,” Mbeki said.
“These are our National Orders, the symbols that represent the nobility of human endeavour, constituting a Hall of Fame that will, today, be enriched by new and distinguished members.”
Among the latest members of South Africa’s National Orders was Beka Ntsanwisi, known as Limpopo province’s “Mother Theresa”, who received the Order of the Baobab in bronze.
The Order of the Baobab represents exceptional contribution, and is awarded to South African citizens for distinguished service that goes beyond the call of duty.
Ntsanwisi, the Munghana Lo Nene Radio presenter, was recognised for her contribution in the fields of health, education, youth development and the upliftment of rural communities in Limpopo.
- To view the full list of new recipients, go to National Orders awards, 22 April 2008