Director's Statement

Dara Kell (Co-director / Producer)

I was born in Newcastle, Kwa-Zulu Natal in 1980 and grew up during the height of popular protest against apartheid and the era of harsh repression that followed. Witnessing the birth of a new nation in my early teens sowed the seeds of my filmmaking career. I’m part of a generation of post-apartheid filmmakers who grapple with the hopes and complexities of our emergent country. DEAR MANDELA is my first film, and it is the film that I was born to make.

In 2007, I first learned about a new social movement called Abahlali baseMjondolo (Residents of the Shacks). I was immediately intrigued by the potential of this deeply democratic movement to find some way through the seemingly intractable situation of millions of people living in life-threatening conditions in rapidly growing informal settlements. In December 2007, my filmmaking partner Christopher Nizza and I visited the movement’s headquarters in Durban. Meeting the young leaders who became the stars of the film, I saw that they embodied Nelson Mandela’s pragmatic idealism, his courage and his humility. I witnessed the trauma caused by unlawful evictions of shack dwellers at the hands of the Red Ants, as well as the courageous resistance of evictions by communities all over Durban. DEAR MANDELA is a testament to the hope that still survives among those whose spirits could otherwise have been broken. It is an ode to those who gave their lives for a free South Africa, and a love letter to my country.

Growing up during apartheid was claustrophobic and at times terrifying. Newscasters lied to us while people were being assassinated in the townships. Making this film is an attempt to understand parts of my country that were hidden to me as a young white girl growing up in a segregated suburb. As the only child of a single mother who juggled 3 jobs to keep a roof over our heads, I grew up without privilege but was still worlds away from those who lived in informal settlements. I hope DEAR MANDELA helps bridge the manufactured divisions between black and white, suburb and informal settlement, rich and poor.