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Making Change

By Linda Biehl | September 1, 2004 | 0 comments

Eleven years ago, near Cape Town, South Africa, Easy Nofemela, Ntobeko Peni, and two other South African men murdered Amy Biehl, a white American Fulbright scholar. When South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission granted the men amnesty for their crime in 1998, Amy Biehl’s parents, Peter and Linda, supported the decision. Today, Easy Nofemela and Ntobeko Peni work with Linda Biehl at the Amy Biehl Foundation Trust in Cape Town, a charity that supports youth education and anti-violence programs in South Africa. Peter Biehl passed away in 2002. Below is a transcription of Linda Biehl’s reflections on the Truth and Reconciliation process, as told to Greater Good Editor Jason Marsh.

I really do give credit to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the amnesty process. Easy and Ntobeko needed to confess and tell the truth in order to receive amnesty, and there was a genuine quality to their testimony. I had to get outside of myself and realize that these people lived in an environment that I’m not sure I could have survived in. What would you do if you had been oppressed for generations? What would you do? I think you have to ask yourself these questions.

Then there was their desire to actually meet us. They wanted us to be a part of their lives. When I walked into Easy’s house for the first time, I showed him a photo of my new grandson. Easy looked at me and said, “Oh, Makhulu!” That means grandmother, wise woman. From that point on, I sort of became Makhulu, not only to some of the township people like Easy and Ntobeko, but also to my own grandchildren in the States.

They really did include us in their lives. I sensed their love, their remorse. I don’t know how they do it everyday—how they look at pictures of Amy all around the office, how they look at me. But they’ve come to terms with that inside themselves.

I do think forgiveness can be a fairly selfish thing. You do it for your own benefit because you don’t want to harbor this pain, you don’t want to hold this cancer in your body. So you work through it. The reconciliation part is the hard work. It’s about making change.

There’s a lot of collective guilt, but Amy wanted things to be better here. I sense that she would be right here alongside us, holding their hands. I take great comfort in that; it brings me peace. But we don’t really dwell on the past. We dwell on what needs to be done.

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