| Inside the Struggle: The Amy Biehl Story |
1994. 60 mins. Turning Point.
The film offers a brief biographical profile of Amy Biehl, an upper middle class American girl. Mandela had became her hero after hearing a song about him on the radio. Her interest impacted her family, and she learned about South Africa in university courses. She was absorbed with the country's history.
The history of Afrikaners, compared to the American West follows. This overview includes a very quick, but accurate history of apartheid, illustrated with footage from features, news reels and other visual materials (none of it identified). Amy had wanted to change conditions, and was prepared to take the necessary risks. She worked in several African countries, and then was awarded a Fulbright to study at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), a primarily `colored' institution near Cape Town. Biehl was stunned at the township poverty she saw in this area.
Amy was warned by one of her UWC professors about the dangers of going into black areas. After ten months, Amy told that she was surprised that nothing bad had happened, but that she had had a premonition that something might occur. While taking a colleague home to Guguleto, young radicals were holding a protest march. Amy was caught and killed. Her grieving black friend talks to the camera and says that Amy was killed because she was a `settler'. News footage of her funeral and counter-protests in support of Amy are shown. Brigette Mabandla, Deputy Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, says Amy was truly part of us. "We felt guilty being black". She died because of her love for us, says a church woman.
The camera follows the Biehl family who went South Africa to understand the reasons why Amy died. Mr Biehl says he got quite a rush being in the middle of a revolution: shots of shooting over the years of struggle punctuate this statement. Memorial tributes are addressed by Mr Biehl. At the University of Cape Town (UCT) there was a mass response: singing in support of the Biehls occurred in a large classroom.
Shots of Mandela being released in February 1990. End of apartheid statements by the State President FW De Klerk. But the conflicts continued: A frustrated white farmer kills a black man, because his dog had mated with the farmer's.
All the statements made by interviewees in the film are linked to Biehl's philosophy. Maria, a typical black maid, becomes the character through which the continuation of apartheid is shown to occur in the form of a master-servant relationship. The video becomes a maid-and-madams vignette with the white madam not knowing her maid's real name, not doing anything when her husband was being beaten by the farmer, and not paying her enough.
Amy's admiration is revealed for those leading the liberation, especially Chris Hani, who held sway over South Africa's angry young blacks. She continued going into black townships, but says the narrator, "white skin had become a red flag" - the mood was changing. Veteran journalist Allister Sparks talks about how police brutalization turns people into killers. She was a classic victim of a situation she did not create says Robert Shrire, professor of politics at UCT. He tries to explain why some of the very people she aimed to help had taken her life. When the Biehls first set foot in a squatter camp, they were shocked to learn that this is how eight million people lived in South Africa. Small, singing cheerful and welcoming children in the township - they could turn out to be like Amy's killers in 10 years or so if things don't improve (Amy's mother).
Now the camera takes us to Guguleto where Amy was killed. Seeing houses on side of the road - how could their inhabitants just have watched - it was such a public place? The Biehls were shattered.
At the Court house where the suspects were being tried the Biehls are cruelly met with raucous and taunting behavior by young Pan African Congress activists, on hearing about Amy's death. All that mattered to them was that she was white, a `settler'. An interview with the prosecutor tells of threats against the witnesses. "I know now what it means to be hated purely because of race", says Amy's sister.
The Biehls meet the widow of Chris Hani. This was the most important moment of whole trip say Mr Biehl. The scene is of one grieving family meeting another. Reconciliation is the theme from widow and daughter. The camera cuts to Maria Kutwane, who walks past the farm of the man who killed her husband - but she wants blacks and whites to live together. Shrire talks of the "miracle" that so few blacks hate whites for apartheid, and that they don't want retribution.
Tokyo Sexwale, a former guerilla commander and ranking member of the African National Congress and Communist Party, talks about the need to address hopes and material needs, or the dream will be shattered. This is why political leaders are so determined to press ahead with free elections. The Biehls then meet Mandela at a mass rally.
Amy had wanted to be counted amongst the thousands who lost their lives in the struggle against apartheid.
Inside the Struggle: The Amy Biehl Story is an excellently made production which appeals emotionally to viewers in its quest to understand the nature of the conflict in South Africa, and why Biehl became a victim. But it also rearticulates the notion of `victim' through linking deaths of democrats (eg. Biehl and Chris Hani) to broader calls and processes for reconciliation. The film becomes the Biehl's quest for self-discovery through meeting the people with whom had Biehl worked and admired. Biehl herself is the vehicle through which a kind of absolution is reached by all concerned, except the brutalized youth of the PAC. She does not become the focus of the film, though her thoughts and writings and integrated into broader processes under way.
The history of conflict in South Africa is woven into the narrative, and while a strength in the narrative form and argument of the video, is a weakness in understanding the broader history of oppression and resistance.
The welcome emphasis is one of locating Amy Biehl and the Biehls within broader processes of resistance and reconciliation. This is a positive bias away from canonizing individual heros. The video examines the attack against Biehl in terms of the structural violence that made her assailants into killers. It breaks with the usual notion of black as savages, and locates the savagery in the system of apartheid.
(Written by Keyan G Tomaselli, 1997)
Magona, S. 1998. Mother to Mother. Cape Town: David Philip Publishers.