The acclaimed 2012 documentary Dear Mandela explores events in Durban, but it could be Mumbai, Delhi, or any major Indian city that is grappling with the question of low-cost housing for the poorer sections of society.
Directed by Dara Kell and Christopher Nizza, Dear Mandela follows the efforts of activist group Abahlali baseMjondolo in protecting the rights of the residents of the South African city’s numerous shantytowns. Abahlali fights to rebuild demolished homes and prevent individuals from being thrown out of their shacks, but its biggest battle is against a new piece of legislation that facilitates mass demolition and eviction and fundamentally denies the urban poor their right to a roof above their heads.
The documentary is being screened in Delhi, Mumbai and Ahmedabad by non-profit groups in a dubbed Hindi version between October 23 and 30. Two members of the Abahlali BaseMjondolo will be present during these screenings.
Abahlali’s campaign is viewed over the shoulders of three characters who are also its members: a student who signed up when he was merely 14, a young woman who juggles her education with a job at community centre, and a store owner who helps slum dwellers rebuild homes that have been torn down by demolition squads. Set to rousing music and following the lows and highs that are typically of a lengthy struggle with state agencies, Dear Mandela provides a vivid portrait of a people’s movement.
The documentary was shot over four years, and reveals the growing disillusionment with the African National Congress, whose most well-known face, Nelson Mandela, inspires the barefoot activists, as well as the belief that present-day South Africa has inherited Apartheid-era disregard for the urban poor.