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Healing, Not Retribution, After Tragedy Strikes

To the ethereal beat of African drums, Peter and Linda Biehl recounted their harrowing experiences learning of their daughter’s brutal murder in South Africa in the award winning documentary, “Long Night’s Journey Into Day.” The Biehls visited Harvard Business School on Monday to share their perspectives on South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle and their unexpected roles in its healing process.

In 1993, Amy Biehl was on a Fulbright scholarship when she was stabbed and stoned to death by four disenfranchised black youths chanting anti-white slogans in Guguletu Township. As the only American killed in the struggle, Amy’s murder thrust the Biehls onto the international stage and into South Africa’s amnesty process, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is the Biehls courage, in the face of unspeakable personal tragedy, that has sustained them in their mission to help the impoverished communities where Amy’s killers lived. The Biehls leadership continues to inspire people around the world, especially in
the wake of the events of September 11th.

Two months prior to her death, Amy wrote a letter to the Cape Town Times expressing her belief that reconciliation after apartheid would be extremely difficult. However, she believed that through open and honest dialogue, a free and democratic South Africa would emerge. Amy could not have known that her own parents, in an effort to promote restorative rather than retributive justice and to honor her anti-apartheid mission, would be willing participants in her killers’ amnesty hearing. “With understanding comes the possibility of acceptance, not necessarily forgiveness,” said Peter Biehl. “Forgiveness is a matter between a man and his God.”

Since 1994, the Biehls have dedicated their lives to addressing what they see as the systemic causes of violence: lack of economic opportunity, deprivation and alienation. Forty years of apartheid created such conditions that sowed the seeds of political violence.
Continuing Amy’s courageous work, the Biehls have spent the last seven years in Guguletu working alongside Amy’s killers to build sustainable businesses and foundations. Their goal is twofold: apply the earning power of business to socially important enterprise and promote self-empowerment. Their extraordinarily successful efforts, in areas where 80% unemployment is common, have created diverse businesses.
Amy’s Bread bakeries, golf complexes and construction and action sports companies together employ 400 people. Every dollar not used to grow the businesses is channeled back to the townships through anti-violence organizations, after school programs, nursery schools and employment training programs. The Biehls have raised US $4 million for their efforts.

Like Amy, the Biehls believe strongly in the importance of an academic background and have established relationships with Wharton, Notre Dame’s Mendoza School and Stanford University, Amy’s alma mater. In particular, the Biehls feel a special connection to students, perhaps because Amy died studying and working for her beliefs. “When we meet young people around the world, we are so in awe. Young people today are so much more courageous, much more prepared to do the unconventional than we were,” said Peter Biehl.

The Biehls approached Harvard Business School to build a long-term partnership through the Organizational Behavior unit in the areas of business ethics and leadership. They are currently working with Assistant Professor Joshua Margolis. Common to many business people with other responsibilities-family, making money, getting ahead-Peter Biehl said “we always talked about doing something but never quite got around to it until Amy. In my 32 years in business, I can’t think of any experience that equipped me as a person more than what we have done in South Africa.”

For more information, please visit www.amybiehl.org or contact Peter and Linda Biehl at abf@iafrica.com.

November 12, 2001
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