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Mother to Mother

  1. Geographical Overview
  2. Historical Overview
  3. Plot outline
  4. Character map
  5. Topics of the book
  6. Justice and Accountability
  7. The real Amy Biehl case



Task:Describe the position of South Africa!

Cape Town

legislative capital


judicial capital

Capitals of SA


executive capital

  • largest city is Johannesburg
  • population 60 million
  • area 1.200.000 square kilometers - 3.5 bigger than Germany

Facts about South Africa:

diamonds were discovered at Kimberley


Great Trek


Cape colony was founded by Dutch East Indian Company


Orange Free State and Transvaal State was founded by Boers


Cape colony was occupied by British Empire


first Portuguese came to SA


History of South Africa

Union of South Africa is formed


second Anglo-Boer War


start of apartheid


Transvaal and Orange Free State ruled by British Empire


first Anglo-Boer War


Anglo-Boer War

  • political system
  • people were separated into racial groups
  • were kept apart by law
  • segregation in all sectors of life (schools and public transport)

What is apartheid?

"Group Areas Act"


"Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act"


"Population Registration Act"


"Afikaner National Party" won elections


Apartheid politics and system

"Bantu Education Act"


"Separate Representation of Voters Act"


"Suppression of Communism Act"


"Abolition of Passes Act"


"Bantu Authorities Act"


Apartheid politics and system

liberal constitution became law


ANC winning the first democratic elections


"Black Economic Empowerment" introduced

After 1996

"Truth and Reconciliation Commission"


Mandela´s release from prison

11th February 1990

End of apartheid and the new South Africa

  • post-apartheid South Africa described as "Rainbow Nation"

  • nation representing different colours and different people —> black and white together

  • rainbow as a symbol of hope and a bright future

Rainbow Nation

  • functions as a first-person narrator and ist he protagonist as she tells her story
  • tries to explain the cirumstances that have made her son a murderer, without legitimating the deed
  • reader is drawn to feel sympathy towards her
  • the book, which she narrates, is away for her to come to terms with her son’s actions, and to apologize by the Mother of the Girl for her hand in Mxolisi’s upbringing, while also explaining the factors beyond their control that lead to the tragedy at the novel´s center

Mandisa: Role in the novel

  • Mandisa was a respectful, hardworking child and talented student, whose life was first disrupted by her family’s forced relocation to Guguletu, and later by her surprise pregnancy
  • Mandisa and her then-boyfriend China Bad their first son, Mxolisi
  • out of duty, Mandisa marries China, and stays unhappily married whith him for two years
  • later she pieces her life back together and starts a new, Mandisa comes to resent Mxolisi for disrupting her life
  • Mandisa gives birth a second child with a man named Lungile which leaves her afterwards
  • she marries Dwadwa, with whom she has her youngest child and only daughter, Siziwe


  • lives in a shack with her husband and 3 kids
  • says that she loves all her kids equally, but her relationship with Mxolisi in very deep and intense (always hopes and prays for him to be safe)
  • works as a servant for a white household (family Nelson)
  • because of the 3 pregnancies, she had less and less time and energy for herself -> feels that Mxolisi’s existence had a bad effect on her life
  • she feels guilty she couldn´t spend more time with her children

Adult life:

  • Mandisa feels great guilt regarding Mxolisi’s life and crimes
  • she feels responsible for him and is made to feel responsible for his murder of the white girl
  • besides feeling sorry for Amy and her family, she also grieves a lot for her own family and feels an understanding for the politically motivated actions of her son

Adult life:

Mxolisi is a product of the circumstances he was born into and a victim of the environment he grew up in (Conditions of Apartheid). Possible for the reader to se him a a victim of society, government and apartheid in order to understand this murder

  • his live and evolution shows the effects of living under Apartheid
  • his life shows the mind-altering system he has to live in
  • extreme corruption of youth

Mxolisi: Role in the Novel

  • 1973 January born, unplanned pregnancy
  • oldest brother of three
  • Mandisa’s oldest son, and her only son with China
  • he is originally named Hlumelo, but China’s family renames him, claiming their right to do so, as grandparents traditionally name the baby
  • Mandisa and Mxolisi have a troubled relationship; she blames him for his own conception
  • Mandisa, tries to compensate for resenting her son by paying more attention to him

Mxolisi`s life

  • 1973 January born, unplanned pregnancy
  • oldest brother of three
  • Mandisa’s oldest son, and her only son with China
  • he is originally named Hlumelo, but China’s family renames him, claiming their right to do so, as grandparents traditionally name the baby
  • Mandisa and Mxolisi have a troubled relationship; she blames him for his own conception
  • Mandisa, tries to compensate for resenting her son by paying more attention to him

Mxolisi`s life

  • growing up without a real father; China left when he was just 2 years old
  • Mxolisi began his life as a sweet child, but when he witnessed the police murder his friends, Zazi and Mzamo, he stopped speaking for several years
  • he later regained his speech, and Mandisa sent him to school, where beatings from teachers discouraged him from continuing to pursue his education
  • he dropped out without Mandisa’s knowledge to work and help her support the family, but she convinced him to return

Mxolisi`s life

  • Eventually he became politically active and joined the „Young Lions“, spending his days patrolling the neighborhood, sometimes fighting for his education but often harassing members of his own community
  • Mxolisi gets caught up in a mob that was forms around the car of a white university girl when she drives in Guguletu

Mxolisi`s life

  • the white girl is killed by Mxolisi whom stabs and murders her when she drives into Guguletu
  • Mandisa believes that the girl was driving through the town in order to drop of her black friends from college, who had warned her about the risks of going to Guguletu
  • as soon as the Guguletu residents spota white person in their town, though, they begin to chant, “One settler, one bullet,” and a mob forms around the girl’s car, rocking it menacingly

The white girl

  • when Mxolisi fatally stabs her he is treated like a “king.”
  • although a fictional character, the white girl based on Amy Elizabeth Biehl, an American Fulbright Scholar studying in South Africa, who was murdered by a group of young black South Africans

The white girl

Life in the township of Guguletu

In general

  • huge but congested by the crowds
  • tiny, low houses cramped close together along narrow streets
  • lack of hygiene: debris, insects, vermin
  • children play in the dirt, toys are made of garbage
  • sandy, infertile land, very windy —> impossible to build solid houses
  • families are split up, loss of community/friends/neighbors
  • unhealthy and depressing environment —> sadness, grief and homesickness
  • long distances and high fared to get to workplaces or to food stores
  • great number of thrown together people —> feeling of anonymity
  • high levels of crime

Life in the township of Guguletu

For young people

  • disorganized school systems —> many children are not going to school at all
  • loss of friends —> loneliness
  • mothers have to work hard —> can not take care of their children
  • people die young
  • teenager pregnancies are common
  • loss of self-determination
  • social problems („there is always trouble in Guguletu“)
  • Guguletu means "Our Pride" (from the Xhosa)—> bitter irony
  • living conditions are not acceptable (education, social/medical aspects)
  • the people are forced to live in poverty —> they hate Guguletu as their home
  • the government ignores the problems in Guguletu —> institutional racism?

Forced removal form Blouvlei

- Mandisa remembers how happy and (relatively) carefree her childhood had been before her family was relocated to GuguletuLife in Blouvlei:- sense of community, friends, neighborhoods, tradition, family bonds- everyone feels secure and at home- mothers have time for their children, access to education for all children- poverty —> but with few luxuries- short distances to shop (within walking distance)

Forced removal form Blouvlei

Similarities to Guguletu: Poverty, Living in shacks, lack of space and privacy Differences to Guguletu: Sense of community/security, possibilities of education

Process of the relocations:

- an aeroplane flies over Blouvlei —> dumps flyers informing the inhabitants that they will be relocated next month- white people begin tearing down the shacks in the township- Blouvlei is surrounded by police and the army, they ignore all resistance- all the people are escorted by the government to their new home: wilderness with ugly concrete houses

  • Mandisa gets pregnant from her boyfriend China being 15 years old
  • she has not received any kind of sex education before, her mother was constantly worried that she could get pregnant
  • Mandisa recognizes her pregnancy while living with her grandmother in Gungululu, before this realization, she planned to got to East London with her aunt to go to school there

Teenages pregnancy

  • her mother forces her to go back to Cape Town
  • China does not accept the child as his child, his family forces Mandisa to marry him and
  • choses the name for the child: Mxolisi „He who will bring peace“

Teenages pregnancy

  • interpretation of cumulative ethnical and moral rules → Determines what is fair or not
  • system of justice in every society → Dictates rules for behaviour
  • Goddess of justice: „Justitia“ → With blind fold and scale


  • taking responsibility for own behaviour
  • repair of the caused harm


  • founded by the South African government in 1995 → Desmond Tutu as the head
  • uncovering the truth about human rights violations that had occurred during the period of apartheid
→ assist victims in gaining closure → handle applications for amnesty from perpetrators
  • helps South Africans to cope with their past on a morally accepted basis

Truth and Reconciliantion commission

By describing the circumstances and recognising his accountability, amnesty could very well be granted

  • A muderer: No one forced him to commit the crime → He is responsible for his actions
  • A victim of his environment: Radicalized due to dehumanising circumstances of his environment → Oppressive system of Apartheid is reason for the killing

Maxolisi- murderer or victim of his environment

  • she came to South Africa to study in Cape Town at University of the Western Cape
  • the day she was killed she drove three people home to the township Guguletu
  • a mob pulled her from the car, stabbed and stoned her to death
  • her family started a foundation to help and work with the youth in the township
  • the Book based on a real-life incident
  • April 26, 1967 – August 25, 1993
  • was an American Graduate of Stanford University
  • anti Apartheid activist in South Africa

The real Amy Biehl case

Thank you for listening!!