Killing of US Student in Racial Attack Shakes South Africa
JOHANNESBURG — THE tragic and untimely death of American exchange student Amy Biehl, the first United States citizen to die in South Africa's spiraling township violence, has moved many people in this already troubled nation.
It has sparked a mood of introspection and soul-searching almost on the scale that followed the assassination of popular black leader Chris Hani last April - the moment when whites realized how tenuous was the hold of moderate leaders of the African National Congress (ANC) on the militant voices of the townships.
"I am feeling sick about South Africa since Amy Biehl's death," says Dene Smuts, a legislator from the liberal Democratic Party. "What sort of a country have we become?"
Biehl, a Fulbright scholar who was researching women's rights at the University of the Western Cape, was stabbed and beaten to death Aug. 25 by black youths in a township outside Cape Town while she was driving three black friends home.
Judging from the outpouring of grief that has followed her murder, Biehl touched the lives of many who knew her at the predominantly mixed-race university, and practiced a commitment to racial equality and justice.
Melanie Jacobs, a mixed-race South African with whom Biehl shared an apartment, declared the American student an "honorary African" because of her mastery of township dances.
The impact of her death on South African society was reflected in the massive media coverage of her story and memorial service.
The vivid account of her death by one of her friends, Singiswa Bevu, who was stabbed in the right arm as she tried to protect her friend, has brought home the explosive anger taking hold among the youth in many black townships on the eve of a negotiated political settlement that is intended to bring about democratic rule. Whites disturbed
Biehl's death has also unleashed a wave of fear and helplessness among the country's white minority and the small band of white civil rights workers, peace monitors, and journalists who venture regularly into black ghettos.
According to eyewitness accounts, a large group of black youths started stoning Biehl's car and shattered the windows as she drove down a main street in Guguletu. When she and her passengers fled the car and started running for cover, the youths chased them and began stabbing Biehl as she pleaded for mercy.
One of her black friends asked the youths why they were attacking her, and one youth replied: "Because she is a settler" - a reference to the term used by the militant Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) to describe white South Africans. The term is used in the controversial PAC slogan heard increasingly in the black townships: one settler, one bullet.
Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel peace laureate, appealed to political leaders to stop using blood-curdling slogans.
"Surely there must be other slogans that can embody and express what all of us want - an end to injustice and the coming of a dispensation where all - black and white - will matter," Archbishop Tutu said.
The attack, which was carried out by youths in their late teens, was described by ANC leaders as a racially inspired killing that would have a negative impact on race relations countrywide. The ANC vowed to use its township network to help seek out the killers.
Police have arrested two youths who are due to appear in court today. The Pan Africanist Students Organization, the PAC's student wing, has admitted that the two youths are PASO members.
While PASO officials have warned that they could not guarantee the safety of whites coming into the townships and that such incidents could recur, PAC officials regretted the attack but added that it had to be seen against a backdrop of seething anger in the townships.
Biehl, who is from Newport Beach, Calif., was due to return home last Friday after 10 months as an exchange student. She planned to enroll in the doctoral program in International Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
After graduating from Stanford University with an honors degree in international relations, she did field work around the Namibian elections in 1989, the registration of voters in Botswana and Angola, and voter education and women's rights in South Africa. Emotional memorial service
Students and staff at the University of the Western Cape paid their last respects to Biehl with an emotional memorial service on Friday, which culminated in a march by about 300 students past the spot where she was murdered.
Ms. Jacobs said that Biehl, if she had had the opportunity, would have explained to the youths that killed her that their hate was built up by the apartheid system. "Amy taught me that the youth are not responsible for their anger," Biehl's close friend told the Saturday Star.