In the beginning of the film Dear Mandela, we’re introduced to the elected spokesperson, Mnikelo Ndabankulu, of the Abahlali baseMjondolo movement. The Abahlali baseMjondolo (residents of the shacks in Zulu) is a social movement of protests caused by a community of shack dwellers that was founded in 2005. It began under difficult circumstances where people’s houses were being torn down for transportation purposes, or for no reason, and they were forced to live in informal settlements (shacks). Mnikelo spoke about the housing situation in the slums and how difficult it was for them to start over, building a new shack when someone came and destroyed the one they had. I found it very interesting that there were soccer balls all over his room- on his blankets, shorts, and posters. It was a foreshadowing to the end of the movie where they used sports as an outlet. Sports were very important in their society and lifestyle and it was clearly shown within the first moments of the film.
“If you have a lot of friends, you don’t suffer” – paraphrased quote by Mnikelo
This quote had a strong meaning to it since it highlighted how unified this group was. Whenever there was a problem, they were there to help. Mnikelo and his “friends” as they referred to each other, believed in human rights and in following the Constitution. Under section 25 of the Constitution, it states that “no one may be evicted from their home or have their home demolished without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances. No legislation may permit arbitrary eviction.”
“So this thing is unconstitutional” Mnikelo said. The residue of the past remains ever so clearly when you see the government destroying everything you had as they did in the 1980’s. “How could the government leave me homeless, with such a Constitution that protects me?” were questions that many residents in these settlements had asked themselves. How can someone be so brutal and inhumane to just take over the area and destroy another person’s home?
While listening to these stories and seeing the tragedy that the government had left innocent South Africans under, I thought to myself, where is Nelson Mandela? Where is the ANC while all of this is happening? During the election Mandela had promised housing and support for the homeless, but contradictorily they were taking houses away. The government of all people were taking their homes from them.
Dr. Lindiwe Sisulu, Minister of Housing, was the first woman to be introduced in this film that had anything to say about the housing situation. They were working on making sure that everyone got a house. The ANC, under Mandela’s words, were in support of establishing homes for the people. He promised that they would build homes for the poor, which were called “Mandela houses” due to his speeches. “It is not going to take overnight, it will take a year or even 5 years” paraphrased quote by Mandela on his opinion for how long it would take to see houses built.
A bump in the road occurred in 2008, when the KwaZulu-Natal province passed legislation that became known as the “Slums Act”. It was the first plan to eradicate informal settlements and prevent emergence of settlements. They believed that “we can’t have the quality of life if these settlements are in the urban centers.” They did not want poor people living close to the city center and wanted to push them as far back as possible. There was no debate against the Slums Act since they had more power to municipality, and were allowing eviction to occur even against the Constitution. The “red ants”, also known as the “devil’s angels”, would do the dirty work and demolish shacks that did not have a number on them indicating they were newly built. The name came from the bright red jumpsuits that they wore during demolition, and were supporters of the Slums Act – also known as the life threatening legislation. Once houses were destroyed, people were dumped in tins, away from city center so that government could build roads where their shacks once were. Graffiti that once read Free Mandela, now said Hang Mandela. The townships were getting frustrated, upset and more worrisome than anything else. They were always worried that the law would make them move.
The film also showed student’s in school and their opinion on the situation. One student said that there was 1 tap for 7,000 people in his neighborhood and that it was all the governments fault. They brought it upon themselves to rise up against the government because “they youth are the future” and if Mandela is gone, it is all up to them.
“Being poor in life doesn’t mean you are poor in mind”
The most famous settlement that took the Slums Act and government to court was the Kennedy Road Settlement. With the Abahlali movement by their side, and lawyer Stuart Wilson, they were going to prove to the government that what they were doing was wrong. At first, the court ruled that they were not properly reading the Constitution and that it doesn’t say it will offer alternative housing. But after more than 5 months, they came back to court where the judge ruled that the constitutional validity of Section 16 of the Slums Act was inconsistent and invalid. The Slums Act was gone, to be vanished and never heard from again. There was no more hiding to be done by families, they had finally won!
“Forward with lawyers who tell the truth!”
“The power is indeed ours!”
“Forward with the Constitution!”
Were some of the last quotes of the film that the people had rejoiced in chanting. Now, when the government says they are going to move people, the people relax and with deep confidence say, “no you are not.”