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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 411
Paragraph Numbers 168 to 181
The killing of Amy Biehl
168. In April 1994, PASO members Mongezi Christopher Manqina [AM0669/96], Vusumzi Samuel Ntamo [AM4734/97] and Mzikhona Easy Nofemela [AM5282/97] were convicted of killing American Fulbright scholar Amy Elizabeth Biehl in Guguletu, Cape Town, on 25 August 1993. They were each sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment. Subsequently, in June 1995, Mr Ntobeko Ambrose Peni [AM5188/97] was also convicted of the offence and sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment.209
1 6 9 . The four applied for amnesty. The Amnesty Committee heard that, on the afternoon of her death, Amy Biehl was giving three colleagues a lift in her car with a view to dropping some of them off in Guguletu, when her vehicle came under attack by people running towards it and throwing stones. The stones smashed the windscreen and windows of the car. One of the stones hit Ms Biehl on her head, causing her to bleed profusely. She could not continue driving and climbed out of her car and ran towards a garage across the road. Her attackers did not relent, but pursued her, still throwing stones. Manqina tripped her, causing her to fall. By now she was surrounded by between seven and ten people who stoned and stabbed her. She died as a result of her injuries.
170. The Amnesty Committee heard that the four applicants were amongst those involved in the attack. Peni admitted to having thrown stones at Ms Biehl fro m about three to four metres away. Manqina stabbed her with a knife and threw stones at her. Nofemela threw stones at her and stabbed her three or four times. Ntamo threw many stones at her head from a distance of only a metre a w a y. They stopped attacking her only when the police arrived at the scene.
171. The attack on the car driven by Amy Biehl was one of many incidents in the area that afternoon. Bands of toyi-toying2 1 0 youths had been throwing stones at delivery vehicles and cars driven by white people. A delivery vehicle had been pushed over and set alight. Only the arrival of the police prevented further damage.
172. The applicants explained their behaviour in the following way. They testified that earlier that day they had attended a meeting at the Langa High School, where a PASO unit had been re-launched. Peni had been elected chairperson at the meeting. Manqina was vice-chairperson of the PASO unit at the Gugulethu Comprehensive School and Nofemela was a PASO organiser at the Joe Slovo High School. The meeting was addressed by Mr Simpiwe Mfengu, the Regional Secretary of PASO; Mr Wanda Madubula, the Regional Chairperson of PASO , and many other speakers. The applicants told the Committee that speakers dealt with various issues: the strike by teachers in the Western Cape who were demanding recognition for the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU); the struggles of APLA for the return of the land to the African people, and the fact that APLA had declared 1993 as the ‘Year of the Great Storm’. Reference was also made to the launching of ‘Operation Barcelona’, aimed at stopping all deliveries into the townships.
173. The speakers urged PASO members to take an active part in the struggle of APLA by assisting APLA operators on the ground to make the country ungovernable. The speeches were militant and punctuated by frequent chanting of the slogan ‘one settler, one bullet’.
174. The applicants testified that they were so inspired by the speakers that they left the meeting in a militant mood. They marched through the township toyi-toying and chanting slogans, determined to put into effect what they had been urged to do. This, they testified, is how they became involved in the killing of Amy Biehl.
175. Referring to this incident in its testimony to the Amnesty Committee, the PAC stated:
On the Amy Biehl issue, we wish to state that PASO was not a part of APLA. They are a component part of the PAC not involved in armed struggle. This act occurred in the context of a strike for recognition by South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) in the Western Cape. To support the strike, ‘Operation Barcelona’ was launched to stop deliveries from towns into the townships.
Although the PAC was not involved, PASO acted in solidarity with their teachers and with COSAS. They wrongly targeted and killed Amy Biehl. We expressed our regret and condolences to Amy Biehl’s family in a letter to the United States Ambassador. We restate this position yet again through the TRC. But misguided as the deed was, we support the amnesty applications of all those convicted and sentenced for the offence.
176. The applicants testified that, although they did not act on the orders or instructions of APLA or the PAC that day, they believed they owed loyalty to the same cause. Nofemela and Peni had attended lectures by APLA operators on political matters and had received elementary lessons on the handling of arms and ammunition. As members of PASO, they were active supporters of the PAC and subscribed to its political philosophy and policies. By stoning company delivery vehicles and making it difficult for them to make deliveries in the townships, they were taking part in a political disturbance and contributing toward s making their area ungovernable. Thus their activities were aimed at supporting the liberation struggle against the state.
177. The Amnesty Committee carefully considered why it was that Ms Amy Biehl, a private civilian, was killed during this disturbance. It concluded that part of the answer could be found in the fact that her attackers were so aroused and incited that they lost control of themselves and became caught up in a frenzy of violence. While giving his evidence, one of the applicants said that they all subscribed to the slogan ‘one settler, one bullet’. This meant that they believed that every white person was an enemy of the black people, and saw Amy Biehl as a representative of the white community. They believed that by killing civilian whites, APLA was sending a serious political message to the government of the day. By intensifying their activities, they believed that they would eventually increase political pressure on the government to such an extent that it would be compelled to hand over political power to the majority of the people of South Africa.
178. Viewing the conduct of the applicants in this light, the Amnesty Committee accepted that the crime committed by Amy Biehl’s killers was related to a political objective. The Committee accepted that the applicants had made full disclosure of all the relevant facts as required by section 20(1) of the Act. Amnesty was therefore granted to the four applicants.
179. The Amy Biehl incident provided the Commission with an extraordinary example of reconciliation. Members of the Biehl family who attended the hearing did not oppose the application.
180. The applicants expressed re g ret for their actions. In his application for amnesty, Peni said:
I feel sorry and very downhearted especially today, realising the contribution Amy Biehl played in the struggle ... I took part in killing someone that we could have used to achieve our own aims. Amy was one of the people who could have, in an international sense, worked for our country so that the world knows w h a t ’s going on in South Africa, so that the government of the day would get support. I ask Amy’s parents, Amy’s friends and relatives, I ask them to forgive me. (Hearing at Cape Town, 8 July 1997.)
181. At the conclusion of the evidence, Mr Peter Biehl addressed the Amnesty Committee. A part of his statement follows:
We have the highest respect for your Truth and Reconciliation Commission and process. We recognise that, if this process had not been a pre-negotiated condition, your democratic free elections could not possibly have occurred. There fore, and believing as Amy did in the absolute importance of those democratic elections occurring, we unabashedly support the process which we recognise to be unprecedented in contemporary human history.
At the same time we say to you, it’s your process, not ours. We cannot, there- f o re, oppose amnesty if it is granted on the merits. In the truest sense it is for the community of South Africa to forgive its own and this has its basis in traditions of ubuntu and other principles of human dignity. Amnesty is not clearly for Linda and Peter Biehl to grant.
You face a challenging and extraordinarily difficult decision. How do you value a committed life? What value do you place on Amy and her legacy in South Africa? How do you exercise responsibility to the community in granting forgiveness, in the granting of amnesty? How are we preparing prisoners, such as these young men before us, to re-enter the community as a benefit to the community, acknowledging that the vast majority of South Africa’s prisoners are under 30 years of age – acknowledging as we do that there ’s massive unemployment in the marginalised community; acknowledging that the recidivism rate is roughly 95 per cent? So how do we, as friends, link arms and do something? There are clear needs for prisoner rehabilitation in our country as well as here. There are clear needs for literacy training and education, and there are clear needs for the development of targeted job skill training. We, as the Amy Biehl Foundation, are willing to do our part as catalysts for social progress. All anyone need do is ask. A re you, the community of South Africa, prepared to do your part? (Cape To w n hearing, 9 July 1997.)209 Volume Th r e e, Chapter Five, p. 509 . 210 The toyi-toyi is a revolutionary dance.