FORGIVE BUT DON'T FORGET; as One of the Brighton Bombers Addresses the British Parliament, Accompanied by the Daughter of One of the Five Killed in the IRA Atrocity 25 Years Ago, a Writer Who Worked with South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission Admits While Even Her Own Instinct Would Be Retribution, for Peace to Last There Must Be Forgiveness; SATURDAY ESSAY

Article excerpt

Byline: by Melanie Verwoerd

TWO years ago I was driven around a township in Cape Town by an elderly white American called Linda Biehl and a young African man, Ntobeko Peni, who was her driver and security.

I was sitting in the back, listening to the animated discussion between the two of them. At one point Ntobeko became a bit upset and Linda put her hand, in a calming gesture, on top of his. For a moment I froze, for I realised that Linda's white hand was holding the dark hand of the man who had killed her daughter.

I met Amy Biehl shortly before her death in 2002. She was a Fulbright Scholar, who came to South Africa to contribute to the peace process. She had worked in the ANC and was bright and charming. Everyone loved her.

The night before her final departure back to the U.S, she drove to Gugulethu Township in Cape Town, to drop off an African colleague. As they drove into the township, they ran into a large group of excited young men, who had just come back from a radical political rally.

Chanting a famous slogan, 'Kill a farmer, kill a boer [kill the whites]', they spotted her in her car. The car was overturned and Amy pulled from the vehicle. The pleas from her colleague fell on deaf ears and Amy was stabbed and stoned to death in front of the petrol garage where she hoped to get some safety.

I will never forget the shock we all felt when we saw the pictures in the newspapers the next day of Amy lying in a pool of blood on a cold cement floor in the nearby police station with her beautiful long, blonde hair protruding from under the sheet covering her body.

The young men who stabbed and stoned her were caught and, after a difficult trial, they were convicted of her murder and received life sentences.

HOWEVER, a few years later they applied for amnesty to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Linda and Peter Biehl (Amy's parents) were present at the hearings and made it clear that they would not oppose their request for amnesty.

They had set up a charity in Amy's name in order to continue her work in the township and felt that it did not serve any purpose for Amy's killers to stay in jail.

A year after amnesty was granted, Peter and Linda were stunned when they received a request through an intermediary to meet with two of the young men.

An extraordinary process of forgiveness and reconciliation began. Today, the two young men work for the Amy Biehl Foundation and Ntobeko, one of her daughter's killers, has become Linda's driver and security. He calls her Gogo (grandmother) and she was a guest at his wedding.

Linda has told me how she worries about him and that she sees both of the young men as her sons. Ntobeko said that he became concerned for Linda because she did not take her security seriously enough when going into the townships.

When I tell people the story of Amy, Linda and Ntobeko, they usually doubt Linda's sanity. They find it difficult to believe that anyone in their right mind could forgive such a senseless and hideous deed.

Indeed, when I look at my 19-year-old daughter with her long blonde hair, just like Amy's, and I listen to all her dreams of changing the world and contributing to a solution for Africa's many problems, I find it hard to imagine what inside yourself would allow you to forgive someone who would, in cold blood and with such cruelty, kill your child.

And yet, over the years I have met so many people who have forgiven those who did exactly that.

In Kigali, in Rwanda, the Genocide Museum has a special section for children. This is one of the most heart-breaking places I have ever visited. The information boards detail stories of children bludgeoned to death -- often by their own neighbours.

They also record the children's fears and even their last words, like those of eight-yearold Fabrice, who shouted out in panic: 'Mommy, where shall I run to? …