Dear Mandela

Part of Nelson Mandela’s promise to his people, once winning the first multi-racial, democratic election in South African memory, was that he would help to ensure that his people had homes to live in. It wouldn’t happen overnight, he said, the people would have to be patient but the government would eventually build enough homes to house the poor.

Today, more than ten years after Mandela made his promise, those poor are still waiting for their houses.

New documentary ‘Dear Mandela’, a film directed and produced by Dara Kell and Christopher Nizza, explores the current reality of the housing crisis in South Africa, documenting life in a ramshackle ‘informal settlement’ called Kennedy Road, 5 miles outside the South African city of Durban.

Kennedy Road Settlement, Durban

This is land and the homes built upon it are at the centre of a conflict; as South Africa has modernized, the people have urbanized, moving from rural areas to the cities to live and find work. Since the poor cannot afford rent in the city centres, large, ‘informal’ settlements of shacks have been established on government owned land just outside the cities.

The government, which wishes to create a modern South Africa, does not want its people living in poorly constructed temporary housing without reliable supplies of electricity, plumbing, or waste control. It therefore initiated a new piece of legislation, ‘The Slum Act’, and began to demolish informal settlements at will, with an aim of destroying all slum housing by 2014.

These are actions based on honorable sentiments but the reality of the ‘Slum Act’ is that is forces people out of their homes without providing them with a tangible alternative. Many who are evicted from informal settlements are forcibly moved to ‘the tins’: bleak, bare temporary housing made of corrugated iron, built on derelict land far outside the city limits. In contrast to the green, leafy land that the Kennedy Road settlement lies on, these tin houses on dusty, barren land look like prison camps.

Community activists: Mazwi, Zama and Mnikelo

At the heart of ‘Dear Mandela’ are the stories of three young community activists, Mazwi, Zama and Mnikelo, who are living in the Kennedy Road settlement and are active members of a community protest party called Abahlali baseMjondolo (“people living in shacks”), which began fighting to protect informal settlements from violent, arbitrary destruction at the hands of the government.

These young people are fighting for their own rights and the rights of their community to continue living in their homes in peace without fear of eviction and violence. So, they are taking the government to court: they are trying to destroy the ‘Slum Act’.

‘Dear Mandela’ is a great piece of documentary film, managing to educate and well as enthrall the audience with the personal stories of these young, unflinchingly brave and passionate activists who, alongside school, childcare responsibilities, and full time employment, are following in the footsteps of their great hero Nelson Mandela, and putting up a legal and ideological fight against the might of the South African government.

Unfortunately, the film only has limited screenings at this point in time, but check out the ‘Dear Mandela’ website for the latest information, and go and see this film if you can!



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