I’m a few days behind, so just pretend it’s Sunday!! Today (August 25, 2013!) marks the 20th anniversary of Amy Biehl’s death. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned her before, but she was the US Fulbright scholar from Standford University who was working in South Africa in 1993. Three black South African men killed her during an anti-apartheid demonstration. It was a historic event because she wasn’t just another white girl who was killed, but a US student who was working in South Africa as a woman’s rights advocate during apartheid. Anyways, so Sunday was the 20th anniversary of the day she died in Gugulethu, a black township of Cape Town. Her mother, Linda Biehl (her father Peter died of cancer) was in town and attended a church service in Gugulethu followed by a brief memorial service, which we attended as well.
The church service was really interesting!! It was an Anglican service in this really old/dated church in the township. Because Gugulethu was a black township during apartheid (it continues to remain predominantly black even after the end of apartheid) most of the congregation were black South Africans. I was ready to hear some soulful, gospel music 😉 which I did! The pews were totally full. The woman who presented announcements welcomed our group to the service as well as Amy Biehl’s family, who were also in attendance. I have been to an Anglican service before (catholic would be the closest thing to it, and I haven’t attended one of those either), so I didn’t really know what to expect. The service was in Xhosa, as the presenter announced, so it was difficult to really participate, but we were able to follow along. One of the aspects about this service was that there was a TON of incense. I mean at times it was so smoky that you couldn’t really see. This woman who was accompanied by a bunch of alter kids, would whip the incense thing around on a chain up and down the aisles to “purify” the congregation. It was intense. After talking to my mom she pointed out that we probably looked like Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High when he and his stoner friends emerge from their weed van… the church was that smoky when we opened the doors! What I enjoyed the most were the praise songs and music… imagine that! They had a “choir mistress” who would stand up and direct the congregation in song, they didn’t have a separate choir who would go up to the front or anything. There was no organ, or piano. All the singing was done in acapella. And they sang in Xhosa four part harmonies! It was very impressive. I did recognize two songs! They sang “Rejoice the Lord is King” in Xhosa which I could follow along, and they also sang “It is Well” – one verse in English and another in Xhosa. It sounded really good! At one point people got up and started dancing in the aisles!!! They used their bibles to bang on as drums and then had like silverware type things to make a little clangy noise. I have a video I’m going to try to upload.
After the church service, we walked over to Amy Biehl’s memorial site. There were a bunch of kids from the Amy Biehl Foundation playing marimbas as we arrived! The first song was “if you’re happy and you know it!”. That set the mood for sure! It was more of a celebration of Amy’s life than remembering her death, which was really nice. Linda Biehl spoke as well as some of the people that worked for the Amy Biehl foundation and knew her. Interestingly, two of the men who killed Amy currently work for the Amy Biehl Foundation! Linda Biehl views them as her sons… that’s amazing. And their children she calls her “grandchildren”. I don’t know how she does that. The memorial service was very nice and a very moving.
Sunday evening, we had tickets to see a performance Mother to Mother, which is a portrayal of a mother struggling to come to terms with the actions of her son. It’s a book, and was made into a play that we saw in Cape Town. The play portrays the mother of one of Amy’s killers and how that mother is grieves for Amy’s mother, Linda Biehl, who was in attendance. Everyone should read the book because the play was super good. Sindiwe Magona is the author of Mother to Mother, and she was also in attendance. I could go on and on about the play, but this post is already super long! We had an emotionally exhausting Sunday, but it was all worth it!