Fulbright killers get 18 years

November 4, 1994

Three black South Africans who stabbed, stoned and bludgeoned American exchange student Amy Biehl to death in a Cape Town shanty town last year have each been sentenced to 18 years in jail for what the judge described as a "racially motivated, cold-blooded and ruthless" killing.

Ms Biehl, a 26-year-old Fulbright scholar from Newport Beach, California, and a lifelong anti-apartheid activist, was in South Africa working in a black voter education programme. She was set upon and killed by a mob chanting anti-white slogans while she drove black friends home to the impoverished Gugulethu township on August 25 last year.

Mongezi Manqina, 22, Mzikhona Nofemela, 19, and Vusumzi Ntamo, 23, -- all members of the student wing of the radical Pan Africanist Congress -- are to appeal for political amnesty following the 11-month trial, which was marred by threats to witnesses, unruly behaviour, "toyi-toying" in and outside the court and chanting of the former PAC slogan, "one settler, one bullet".

There was clearly enthusiastic support for the killing of a white among a substantial group of Gugulethu dwellers. But the racial motivation and the circumstances of Ms Biehl's murder shocked and saddened most South Africans.

The men are members of a constituency of ill-educated and politicised, vehemently anti-white urban youth who vowed "liberation before education" and fought by manning burning barricades and fighting running battles with the former government's troops.

The defence argued that their crime was politically motivated, and committed against a political backdrop of unrest. However, Supreme Court judge Gerald Friedman described the murder as primarily racial and said the killers had shown no remorse.

The three escaped the death penalty -- which may still be imposed in South African courts, although there is currently a moratorium on executions -- and may serve only 12 years of their 18-year sentence.

However Justice Poswa, their defence lawyer, predicted: "If these boys have to serve more than five years when the (PAC) leadership is walking around, then it is more than their just desserts." It is unlikely that they will get political amnesty. Under a Bill still before parliament, politically motivated crimes committed up to December 5, 1993, can go unpunished if the perpetrators admit guilt and give a full account of their deeds.

But while white and black killers have gone free for "politically motivated" killings, to release the Biehl murderers would arouse anger in the United States, on which Mandela is relying heavily for future investment, aid and trade support.

Ms Biehl's family in the US said they were pleased that the death penalty was not imposed, and hoped that their daughter's killers could be rehabilitated.

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