We’re very excited to have one of the characters from ‘Dear Mandela’, the teenage community leader Mazwi Nzimande, in New York this week. ‘Dear Mandela’ is a documentary currently in production about young people living in South Africa’s slums, who are trying to halt the forced evictions leading up to the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Please come out to see the shack dwellers in action, hear about their work and find out how you can support their struggle and get involved with anti-eviction struggles right here in NYC.
Even though the film is still in production, our outreach work has already begun. Our team is committed to using DEAR MANDELA to strengthen social movements around the world. Our youngest character Mazwi Nzimande has been invited by the Poverty Initiative to travel to the United States and join more than 160 leaders from across the country and around the world as they gather for a week in Charleston WV to study together, teach one another, and to work towards Reigniting the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign Today.
We’ve just wrapped up our first round of principal photography on Dear Mandela. The last few days flew. We interviewed Government Housing Spokesperson Lennox Mabaso to find out what local government thinks about the Shack Dwellers’ Movement and their Slums Act case at the Constitutional Court. We visited Lamontville aka ‘Silver City’ (named for the shiny corrugated iron it’s made of) which is one of the hundreds of new transit camps being built across the country. This is where those awaiting government houses are kept, often after being forcibly removed from their shacks.
Today was a very special day for us. We got to hold a camera workshop for a group of very talented young people who are one day going to put us so-called professional shooters/editors/directors out of a job. We started with a sneak preview of a 4-minute video about the Slums Act case at the Constitutional Court, which Chris put together literally overnight. It got us going about how important it is for the shack dwellers to be telling their own stories to the world, when their story is so often under-reported and ignored by the news media here in South Africa.
It’s 5 in the morning and we’ve just returned from the Constitutional Court in Jo’burg. Two days ago, 80 shack dwellers (and us) traveled overnight by bus to Jo’burg. After seven hours of singing, praying and not much sleeping, we arrived at the Constitutional Court – the highest court in South Africa. The shack dwellers were there to ask the Constitutional Court judges to declare the ‘Slums Act’ unconstitutional.
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.