For 28 years Police Sgt. Abram Mohapeloa has been on the beat, working the pockmarked streets and dusty back alleys of the black townships east of Johannesburg. It was a good job, he recalled, one that paid the rent for a modest house for his wife and five children and earned him the respect of the community in which he lived.
Today all that has changed. The house is gone, burned down two months ago by a crowd that broke the windows with rocks and hammers, doused the rooms with gasoline and set them ablaze.
The respect is gone as well. In the eyes of many of his former neighbors, Abram Mohapeloa is no longer a guardian of public safety, but rather a "sellout" to the apartheid system of strict racial segregation and its most visible agent in their community.
"Before, they used to come to me and I was their friend," said Mohapeloa. "Now when I go back they don't even want to greet me."
Home for Mohapeloa and his family is now a canvas tent inside a barbed-wire enclosure next to the police station in this small and tidy, all-white community on the East Rand. There are 19 black policemen living in 11 tents here, all of them forcibly evicted from Duduza, the sprawling black township two miles down the road.
They are among 400 black policemen whose homes have been attacked in South Africa in the cycle of unrest that began last September and led to the government's declaration of a state of emergency 13 days ago, according to police figures. At least seven policemen have been killed during that time, and hundreds have moved from their former homes in black townships to safer, fortified locations.
Sometimes houses are attacked spontaneously by angry crowds seeking to lash out in some way against the white-minority government. Other times the assaults appear coordinated and well planned. Either way, the attacks seem inspired by recent calls from the outlawed African National Congress to make the townships "no-go areas" by challenging the "enemy's personnel" -- most often the police.
"A policeman's house is not a fortress, it's where he lives," said a senior police official in Pretoria. "It's no mean achievement to attack a home. It's a cowardly act."
Half of this country's police force of 45,000 is black. They generally serve in segregated units, and although official policy is to grant them equal pay, the reality according to police here is that most earn far less than their white counterparts, in part because they have less education. Constable William Mnguni, a grade school dropout with three years' experience who also lives here, said he earns about $200 a month before taxes.
At 48, Mohapeloa is a proud man who wears his tie and regulation blue jacket even while sitting in his makeshift tent home in the heat of the noon African sun. He has never considered himself part of the thin blue line of apartheid, just a man doing a necessary job. He was born near here and had lived for 22 years in Duduza, and the burning of his house has separated him from his community and wounded him in ways he finds hard to describe.
Asked how he feels about enforcing the government's laws, he said guardedly, "It's still a good job." But he said he feels the indignities of apartheid just as strongly as those who burned him out.
"I get angry, just like them," he said. "I suffer, just like them. I'm paying rent, just like them. I haven't even got a toilet."
Mohapeloa said fear has transformed Duduza. His neighbors will not speak to him because they are afraid of also being branded as collaborators. He suspects that even one of his sons, who witnessed the burning of his house, could identify some of those involved but is afraid to tell his father.
There are several sharp ironies in this tent camp. The police living here have access to electricity and indoor plumbing -- amenities they were denied as residents of Duduza. The toilets are located in two long brick buildings. On the doors are familiar signs: "Nonwhites only."
There are also segregated offices for serving the public. A white officer, who asked not to be identified, explained: a white woman asking police to look after her home while she is away on vacation should not have to share a room in the police station with a black woman who has been assaulted, or with a group of blacks hauled in for drunkenness.
"We're really changing," the officer said, "but it's very slow. You can't rush it."
Rioters burned Constable Mnguni's house in February. Then, after insurance money was paid for the repairs, they burned it again.
For a brief moment, Mnguni, who is 22, said he contemplated suicide. But his confidence is back now. He said he and his fellow officers are prepared to use any force necessary to stop those leading the unrest. "I know what to do with people who are rioting," he said, adding that he is certain police are regaining control of townships like Duduza following the emergency declaration.
"The situation is going to get better because the law is having a very long arm," said Mnguni.
Abram Mohapeloa is more than twice the constable's age and his optimism seems to have faded long ago. He will keep his police job, he said, because he is only seven years from retirement and a pension, and at 48 he is too old to start over.
He said he will never live in Duduza again. Instead, he and his family will move to more permanent quarters being built for police on the outskirts of one of the townships. Their new home will be fortified by barbed wire and guarded 24 hours a day -- a special camp for men who have become exiles in their own country, refugees among their own people.
Mohapeloa does not share Mnguni's optimism that the unrest is over. "It will happen again," he said. "They can start at any time. When they see a policeman, they will start it again."