In the middle of the documentary, Mazwi Nzimande, one of the protagonists in Dear Mandela is rallying a crowd. He is wearing a red T-shirt which is a trademark of the Abahlali baseMjondolo organization. He seems nervous and gazes down as picks up the mic to address the crowd. When he begins to speak, he does so with a lot of vigor and enthusiasm which rubs off on the people. He lets the people gathered know that they are fighting for what is rightfully theirs and that they should not allow anyone to disrespect or discriminate against them on the basis that they are shack dwellers. The crowd is moved by his speech and is filled to the brim with enthusiasm answering Mazwi’s calls with unity and determination. Mazwi is a member of a group that has been persistently championing the rights of shack residents living in the informal Kennedy Road settlement located on Durban’s outskirts. At ease and encouraged Mazwi chants against the Africa National Congress, but the chant is followed by an excruciating silence from the crowd. This particular scene seems to sum up what the documentary revolves around.
As viewers, writers, and readers we are accustomed to narratives that remind us of the struggles that the African National Congress and what activists went through during the apartheid period. It is an impossible history to ignore, and one that is a little too hard to bear. The documentary, Dear Mandela, silently questions without uttering a word, whether the African National Congress’ history is now obscured by immorality and corruption. For Mazwi Nzimande, who comprises a rising generation of young people who are politically savvy, the African National Congress is not the untouchable lion it once was. What was once South Africa’s liberator has now become a failing government, which is a frustrating phenomenon to many South Africans. Many young people feel let down and betrayed. The documentary takes the 1994 government into a review and examines the promises that were made to South Africans when the African National Congress ascended to power and whether they have been delivered.
To the activist group Abahlali baseMjondolo, championing the right for people to dwell in informal settlements without fear of violence or eviction or being chased by collections is essential. Promises have been repeatedly ignored or broken by the government. They protest against the Elimination & Prevention of the Re-Emergence of Slums Act, specifically Section 16, which makes it legal to destroy informal housing or shacks, and immediately evict people dwelling in such settlements. The activist group sues the government demanding the repeal of Section 16 with immediate effect due to its unconstitutional nature.