June 18, 2012

"Beautifully Composed" -

“The kids got back and found no home.” Describing the crisis she and her family are facing, a young mother in Durban, South Africa has trouble finding the words… and what to do next. “Where are you planning to sleep tonight?” asks Mnikelo Ndabankulu, who regularly meets with people who’ve been evicted by police—which means, people whose shacks have been knocked down by men with guns and axes. “I don’t know,” the mother frets. ” Spread the blankets and sleep right here? I really have no idea what to do.”

Sadly, as you come to see in Dear Mandela, her situation is not unusual. The South African government doesn’t so much have an official policy as it has a practice, “evicting” residents from informal settlements by demolishing their homes. While the idea is, supposedly, to eradicate the slums, the effect is to displace people who have nowhere else to go. The practice, as Mnikelo points out, is unconstitutional; he’s brought his copy of the Constitution with him, and reads from it to make this point.

Mnikelo is the elected spokesperson for Abahlali baseMjondolo, the Durban Shack Dwellers’ Movement, founded in 2005 to help impoverished Durbanites maintain the homes they’ve assembled and protect the communities they’ve established. “If you’ve got a lot of friends like me,” he says, “You don’t suffer because once you start doing a job, people help.” He adds, “There’s a saying in Zulu: you don’t passerby when someone is building a house.” To that end, he and other members of Abahlali are working not only to defend against evictions, but also to find legal solutions.

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