‘Constantly reimagine your way forward’: Kevin Chaplin while MD of the Amy Biehl Foundation, pictured here on a visit to Tygerberg Children’s Hospital with former South African Archbishop, Desmond Tutu
Kevin Chaplin has dedicated many years of his working life to reconciliation and transformation, founding the South African Ubuntu Foundation in 2006 and becoming director of the Amy Biehl Foundation (now the Amy Foundation) for many years. Both have helped many South Africans live happier lives. SUSAN BENTLEY sat down with him and extracted a short but powerful message for us all
Former First National Bank executive Kevin (56) has assisted on the boards of many social upliftment projects, and is the recipient of several humanitarian awards. He has been married to Robyn for 30 years, and has two daughters, a son-in-law and a grandson. He lives in Cape Town
‘As many people around the world might remember, Amy was a white American anti-apartheid student working in South Africa in 1993 who was stoned and stabbed to death in Gugulethu by a mob (though four young men were officially charged with her murder).
American anti-apartheid activist Amy Biehl was killed by an angry mob | Photo: Orange County Register
Her parents, Peter and Linda, came to South Africa to try to understand the politically-motivated reasons these men gave for attacking Amy. While here, they made two life-changing decisions. First, to forgive Amy’s killers. Second, to keep her memory and vision alive by setting up a foundation to educate and empower disadvantaged South African youth. Using activities like music, dance, sports and crafts, they made a concerted effort to prevent youth violence.
some people are angered by forgiveness
The Biehls also applied for amnesty from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the four young men convicted of Amy’s murder. This was granted. Amazed by Peter and Linda’s forgiveness, two of the men – Easy Nofemela and Ntobeko Peni – worked with the Biehls when they started the Foundation.
Easy and Ntobeko continued working with what is now the Amy Foundation, which focuses on upskilling and developing young people aged between five and 18 in after-school programmes, and 18 to 35 year olds in skills training. To date, over 600 of our skills graduates are now working in full-time employment or internships.
An Amy Foundation health and wellness class
Amy Foundation students are trained to make items that are sold in retail stores, to tour groups, visitors or in their own businesses
Any Foundation ‘Relate R bracelets’: a project that creates employment and income, reminding the wearer to respect people of other cultures, religions and languages, build relationships and be responsible and reliable | Photo: Gavin Withers Photography
Over 25 years after Amy’s death, I still meet people angered by the Biehls’ efforts to understand the reasons for their daughter’s death, and their forgiveness of what some consider unforgivable.
Yet how else do we stop the cycle of violence? Look at the transformed lives profoundly influenced by the Biehls’ response to a terrible personal tragedy.
we need to transform what happens to us for good
Our country’s spirit of ubuntu, the concept that people are people through other people, may well be our saving grace. In my own personal life too, rather than regretting the past, I find it helps to face challenges down by constantly reimagining your way forward. One can think of it as reinventing oneself every day: ‘What has happened, has happened. Now, how can I go forward?’
Mind-stretching: Amy Foundation students at the chess board
‘Reinvent yourself every day to move forward from challenges’: Kevin with Robyn, his wife of 30 years, daughters and son-in-law
HOW TO BE POSITIVE AND PROACTIVE: WHAT WORKS FOR KEVIN
• A ‘what can I contribute?’ attitude
• Getting out and making things happen
• Surrounding myself with positive people, reducing contact with negative people
• Hard work and prayer, remembering Jeremiah verse 29 from the Bible: ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart’
FORGIVENESS THAT MAKES AN IMPACT: HEAR HOW THE AMY FOUNDATION HELPS BRING MEANING TO YOUNG PEOPLE’S LIVES