The Amy Biehl Story

Amy's Lasting Legacy

Amy, a young American girl made a significant difference to many lives in SA.
Amy Biehl.jpeg

Amy Biehl was a gifted and dynamic young woman committed to making a difference. Amy was born April 26, 1967 in Santa Monica, California. She lived in Palo Alto, Tuscon, and Sante Fe with her parents, Peter and Linda Biehl, two sisters Molly and Kim and a brother Zach. From an early age, Amy would set her mind on a goal or idea and refuse to let go of it. Intuition was her guide in the pursuit of these goals.

Amy embodied a unique spirit of determination throughout her life. Growing up, she pursued swimming, gymnastics, ballet and alternately sat first chair in the flute. In all of these activities, Amy sought to be the best. Even if she wasn’t a ‘natural’ at a chosen activity, Amy worked tirelessly until she became a self-taught expert. 

At a young age, Amy decided that she wanted to go to Stanford. With this goal in mind, she maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout her elementary and secondary education, graduating as valedictorian of her class.

At Sante Fe High School, Amy heard Nelson Mandela’s story applied her signature determination to the cause. The call to ‘Free Mandela’ was advertised on her postcards, letters, notebooks and even her graduation cap. 

This was the beginning of her lifelong passion for human rights. Her honors thesis at Stanford focused on Namibia, and was titled ‘Chester Crocker’s Negotiations of the Namibian Peace Accords: One Man’s Role in Foreign Policy’. 

After graduation in June 1989, she received a grant to work on ‘pre-election observance’ in Namibia for three months with President Sam Nujoma and other prominent political figures.

In her twenties, Amy continued to show an original combination of passionate determinism and academic rationale. Her strong commitment to service exposed her to many high-level political figures. 

Amy worked initially as an intern for Congressman Bart Gordon of Tennessee. This was followed by her first full-time job as Programme Co-ordinator for Africa at the National Democratic Institute in Washington, DC. 

In the period from October 1990 until 1992 when Amy worked at the Institute, she made tremendous progress towards helping to further the NDI’s goals of ‘building political organisations, safeguarding elections and promoting citizen participation’.

But her heart belonged to Africa. 

Even before Amy left the US, she showed a tremendous desire to commit to service in South Africa. Having noticed the disproportionate number of women marginalised by the political system in the SA government, Amy sought and received a Fulbright Fellowship from the US State Department to observe the role of women in transitional regimes.

The Fulbright brought her to Cape Town in October 1992. She studied at UWC (as it was more racially diverse than UCT), advocating for voter rights and political participation for women. She worked with Rhoda Khadali on women’s issues and Dullah Omar on the Bill of Rights. Amy befriended the heads of the ANC and the Women’s League (including Albertina Sisulu and Bridget Mbandla), but she was not an active member of either party. 

Amy was better described as a facilitator, bringing several groups together with the common goal of creating a free and democratic South Africa. 

Amy stood out in a nation that had been divided by more than forty years of legally sanctioned racial separation under Apartheid. She was one of the few white people who ventured to study the Xhosa language rather than ask locals to speak English for her. 

Amy seemed to want to adopt South African culture as her own. She often seemed to forget that her white skin carried negative connotations in a society oppressed by those of her racial profile. She developed friendships with many South Africans, joining them in their township homes and frequenting local reggae clubs with them.

On 25 August 1993, Amy Biehl’s life was tragically cut short in an act of political mob violence in the Guguletu Township outside of Cape Town. 

Four young men were convicted and sentenced to 18 years imprisonment for her murder. When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established, the young men applied for amnesty. 

Determined to honour Amy’s love of South Africa and her belief in the truth and reconciliation process, Amy’s parents participated in the Commission’s hearings and supported amnesty for the youths; the four were granted amnesty and released from prison in 1998.

Amy’s death may be seen as a turning point in the political climate of Cape Town. 

It soon became clear that the line between victim and oppressor had disappeared and it was vital to seek alternatives to politically-motivated violence. 

Blacks, whites and coloureds came together to celebrate Amy’s life in a memorial at St Gabriel’s in Guguletu. Today, Amy’s spirit continues to inspire those striving for a harmonious, multiracial civil society in South Africa.

The Foundation is registered as a Non-Profit Organisation in accordance with Section 18A and Section 30 of the Income Tax Act so that donations made to the organisation are tax deductible in the hands of the donor. In addition, ABF USA is registered as a section 501 C3.

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Issue 23


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