Nelson Mandela’s iconic international status is undeniable and irrefutable; more so in South Africa where – as activist Mnikelo testifies – ‘He is like Jesus Christ himself’. It comes as a bold move, then, when a group of shack dwellers in Durban decide to challenge the ANC (African National Congress) – Mandela’s political party.
Dear Mandela sees a group called Abahlali baseMjondolo – Zulu for ‘people of the shacks’ – fight for their right to have access to dignified housing. Such a promise was made when the ANC came to power post-apartheid and 16 years on it still has not been completely fulfilled. Mnikelo and everyone living in these settlements now face eviction thanks to a new legislation referred to as the ‘Slums Act’, threatening their way of life.
Charismatic characters constitute the backbone of this documentary – Mnikelo the spokesperson for the movement, and Mazwi the young educated activist drive the narrative with their account of a life of struggle. As they take legal action to revoke the Slums Act, they face an increased wave of attacks. One particular tense moment – masterfully captured on camera – takes place during the night when a mysterious mob trashes one of these settlements in search of the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo.
Directors Dara Kell and Christopher Nizza successfully capture a reality of South Africa largely ignored in the country and give a voice to a shunned community.
– Sahba Saberian