Journalists are not known for their thin skins, and places like South Africa tend to toughen the human hide. After several years of covering riots and bombings there, reporter Vivienne Walt and photographer William Campbell expected to be relatively impervious to the smaller tragedies of everyday life under apartheid. But when they set out to tell the stories that appear in this week’s issue, they found out that they weren’t. “Every night when I came home, I felt heartsick,” says Campbell, 38, who has been taking pictures in Africa for 15 years, the past nine for TIME. “The day-to-day images that you see now are less violent than they were in 1985, but much, much more sad.”
Consider the Dlamini family. In 1984, Jacob Dlamini, deputy mayor of Sharpeville, was set aflame by a rampaging crowd protesting a rent increase. The government’s efforts to hang six township residents for the crime provoked an international out-cry. But no one has paid much heed to the dead man’s family. When Walt and Campbell visited their tidy house, they discovered that Dlamini’s wife, who had witnessed the torching, had gone mad and died after three years. His son Silas, 17, who used to play with a stone-and-string stethoscope and dreamed of studying medicine, barely thinks about the future now—there is no money for school. His grandparents, left to raise three orphans on a tiny pension, are broken and bitter. Walt, who had not expected to have much sympathy for the family of a government official, left the interview badly shaken. “It was quite clear that these people were as much victims as the people who were sentenced to hang,” she says. “Frankly, I had to go home and have a good shot of whiskey.”
A native of South Africa whose grandparents emigrated from Lithuania, Walt, 31, was raised in Cape Town and educated at Cape Town university. She worked for a Cape Town newspaper before moving to England, where she worked at both the Times of London and the Financial Times. Now a reporter for the New York newspaper Newsday, she has lived in the U.S. since 1984. But when South Africa erupted in protests that year, she rushed back to cover “one of the extraordinary stories of our time.”
In 1986, the South African government declared a state of emergency and clamped down on the press. Journalists were ordered, for example, to leave the scene of any violence. Walt says she was arrested many times for “being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” But her assignment for PEOPLE allowed her to do the kind of stories she prefers—the ones buried in “the clashes and tensions of everyday life,” she says. “Everyone has been touched by apartheid in some way,” she adds.
So too have the people who bring us this news. “Sometimes I think that the pictures in my mind will never go away,” says Campbell. A native of Dayton, Ohio, he divides his time between Johannesburg and Nairobi, Kenya, where he lives with his wife, Maryanne Vollers, a writer. Sometime soon they hope to build a house near Charlottesville, Va. “I miss fall. I miss the leaves turning,” says Campbell. “The more you cover Africa, the more you miss America.”