Freedom Week 2016 - Dear Mandela

6 May 2016 - 10:15

On 28 April, the UCT Global Citizenship Programme hosted a screening and discussion of the documentary Dear Mandela (2012), directed by Dara Kell and Christopher Nizza. The documentary followed members of the Abahlali baseMjondolo within the context of the 2007 KZN Slums Act.

When Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa in 1994, his government was faced with the task of providing a better life for those who had suffered under Apartheid. Key to this promise was the ambitious plan to ensure housing for all. More than two decades later, however, the number of families living in informal settlements have doubled, and new homes are being built at a slow pace, mired by corruption and inefficient governance.

In Dear Mandela, the government is trying to  "eradicate the slums" by evicting shack dwellers from their homes at gunpoint, something not seen since Apartheid-era forced removals. A new social movement, the Abahlali baseMjondolo, is determined to stop the bulldozers that are destroying homes and communities by challenging the government in the streets and the courts, ultimately winning a victory in the Constitutional Court which declared the 2007 KZN Slums Act unconstituional.

What does this mean for "freedom" in our 22nd year of democracy? How much of the poverty and homeless so many people in our country experience as "everyday life" can be attributed to the Apartheid regime? How much can be attributed to the current regime? Is having the right to vote enough when water and electricity is a struggle to come by? Participants at the screening grappled with these questions in ways that are interesting and enlivening, and came to no clear answers, reflecting the ways in which our current context is riven with nuance and complexity.

There was a sense among participants, however, that like the Abahlali baseMjondolo we need to continue engaging with what is happening in our communities and country, whether this is through protest, petitioning of the state, or writing about injustices which emerge in our contexts.