Crossing the Roads of South Africa

Lars T. Waldorf '85

When Lars T. Waldorf '85 was an undergraduate, other students called him a racist and a fascist for his views on South Africa. The next year, when he was helping provide material aid for Black South Africans, Afrikaaners called him a communist.

Waldorf, now a first-year law student, still isn't sure where he fits into the political spectrum, but he knows that he's concerned with the problems of apartheid.

Waldorf says he went to Lesotho, an independent country surrounded by South Africa, at the age of 17 with his father, an economist who works for the World Bank and the United Nations. During this time, he attended university in South Africa for a few months.

The experience sparked an interest in South Africa, and four years later, Waldorf wrote his Government thesis on the possibilities for confederal reform in South Africa--he said the prospects for reform were poor. That year, he decided to apply for a Rotary Foundation grant to study for a year at the University of Capetown after he graduated.

While at Harvard, the Binghamton, N.Y. native was considered conservative. As editor of the Salient, a right-wing political journal, he wrote several articles denouncing disinvestment, provoking members of the Harvard community to label him "a fascist and a racist," he says. Yet while he lived in South Africa, many white Afrikaaners called him a communist because he didn't support apartheid.

"It's quite an experience to jump the political spectrum in addition to suffering from jet-lag," Waldorf says.

The 23-year-old spent most of his year in South Africa with the white students at the University of Capetown. He says "the classic Afrikaaner word `jorl,' which means to party, sums up white students in South Africa."

"It's a society based on escapism," Waldorf says. "They want to escape from Black Africa."

South Africa's system of apartheid sets up homelands, like Bophuthatswana, where Blacks may live. If Blacks have a job in a white urban area, they may live in a township, like Soweto, an all-Black settlement closer to their jobs. But there's not enough housing in the townships for all those who need it, so many Blacks live in illegal squatter camps.

Vigilante Violence

In March, Waldorf visited a Black township for the first time to attend a funeral for seven African National Congress members. The funeral march, made up of 30,000 mourners, struck Waldorf with its "exhilarating spirit." He says he found "a sense of unity and solidarity in the Black community. Yet three months later that unity had evaporated."

Beginning on May 17, Black vigilantes from one of five sqatter camps that made up Crossroads, an area outside Capetown, drove all of the other sqatters in the camp out of their homes, and burned the buildings, in an effort to get the land for themselves. Once the vigilantes had cleared the area, government bulldozers flattened the camps and enclosed them with barbed wire, but allowed the vigilantes to stay.

The government supported the vigilantes in order to drive the squatters into Khayelitsha, a new settlement the government created by bulldozing sand dunes, or back to the homelands. Meanwhile, the refugees had no desire to go to Khayelitsha--"it's one of the most barren places I've ever seen," says Waldorf--and had little choice but to flee to the nearby townships.

Periodically, the vigilantes, supported by the police, raided the townships to kill off their opposition and drive the refugees farther toward Khayelitsha.

Soon after the first attacks, a welfare group from the University of Capetown started going into the townships to bring food, blankets, and clothing to the displaced sqatters. Waldorf decided because of what he termed a "journalistic desire" to accompany them on one of these missions early in the Crossroads conflict.