On the 27th April, South Africa celebrated Freedom Day. It’s the 15th anniversary of the very first democratic elections. It’s a day most South Africans know almost as well their own birthdays. 27 April 1994 was the day Nelson Mandela become the first democratically elected president. It was the day many South Africans who had endured the horror of apartheid all their lives, finally were allowed to vote. Given the honor that we bestow on this day, it is a serious matter that the shack dwellers have gathered from around the country to celebrate ‘UnFreedom Day’.
Today is only our fourth full day of shooting yet it somehow feels like we have been filming for two weeks! Although we’ve had jam-packed days we have still managed some nighttime fun. Two of our main characters, Mazwi and Mnikelo invited us to ABSA Stadium on Thursday night to watch their soccer team the Sundowns take on the crowd favorite Kaiser Chiefs.
Our first full day of filming was also a monumental day for South Africa. Wednesday 22 April was election day and the atmosphere in the shack settlements and at the voting booths was electric. There was joy in the streets as Zuma supporters danced and waved ANC flags while singing songs from the Apartheid struggle. But there was anger and disillusionment in the shack settlements. Again and again we heard, ‘Why should I vote if I don’t have food in my stomach?’ The catchphrase amongst the poorest people we spoke to was ‘broken promises’.
Today, we finally met up with S'bu, Mnikelo, Zodwa and other members of Abahlali (the Shack Dwellers Movement). After many hugs and catching up, they told us all about the developments of the last year. Much has changed: they have won some important victories, the government has promised to upgrade 2 shack settlements, and 14 settlements will receive services like refuse removal and fire hydrants. The struggle is far from over though, as forced evictions continue, and the transit camps (many call them "human dumping grounds") are growing.
We've just flown into South Africa, to begin Principal Photography on ‘Dear Mandela’. It’s hard to believe that over a year ago, we met the shack dwellers for the first time. We knew immediately that we were in the presence of incredible, courageous people doing brave and wonderful things in the most difficult conditions imaginable. And we knew they had a story like no other. We’re so honored that they have invited us into their world.
On the 20th April, we’ll be joined by our super-talented DP Matt Peterson, our dazzling Producer Tina Brown, and 400 pounds of gear!