When Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa, his government was faced with a seemingly insurmountable task: providing a better life for those who had suffered under apartheid. The cornerstone of Mandela’s ‘unbreakable promise’ was an ambitious plan to ensure housing for all. Eighteen years later, as the number of families living in slums has doubled, a frightening tale of betrayal is unfolding.
The government is trying to 'eradicate the slums' by evicting shack dwellers from their homes at gunpoint, in scenes eerily reminiscent of apartheid-era forced removals. Determined to stop the bulldozers that are destroying homes and communities, a new social movement made up of the nation’s poorest is challenging the evictions on the streets and in the courts. DEAR MANDELA is the remarkable story of Abahlali BaseMjondolo – Zulu for ‘people of the shacks’. It is considered the largest movement of the poor to emerge in post-apartheid South Africa.
DEAR MANDELA brings us into the everyday lives of three dynamic leaders of the movement. Determined to stop the evictions, Mazwi, Zama and Mnikelo met with their communities by candlelight to study and debate new housing legislation. The shack dwellers discovered that the innocuous-sounding Slums Act legalized mass evictions and violated the rights enshrined in the country’s landmark Constitution. They challenged the Slums Act all the way to the highest court in the land - the hallowed Constitutional Court.
The extraordinary achievements of the shack dwellers did not come without a price. Their movement’s very existence is threatened by shack demolitions, assassination attempts and lengthy prison detention without trial. When Zama and Mazwi are drawn into a dangerous mob attack, they learn of the contradictions inherent in the difficult decisions leaders must make, and experience how great leadership is often accompanied by great sacrifice.