Forced government eviction of shack dwellers in South Africa was the focus of the documentary “Dear Mandela,” which was screened by the sociology department Tuesday.
Textor 102 was nearly full, and a question-and-answer session with co-director and producer Dara Kell, and Zodwa Nsibande and Mnikelo Ndabankulu, two leaders of the Abahlali movement who were featured in the film, engaged the audience in discussion.
The film focused on an activist group known as Abahlali base Mjondolo and their determination to stop the evictions. Shack dwellers emerged after Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa in 1994. Apartheid left many in poverty, and Mandela claimed he would provide housing for those without. However, the government began to eradicate the slums by demolishing the shacks people were living in, prompting the creation of the Abahlali group.
Alicia Swords, associate professor of sociology, was a part of the event. She said she hopes students were motivated by it. She said it’s important to understand human rights issues.
“Our goal is for people to be aware of our rights as human beings, to be aware of the basic necessities of life,” Swords said.
Kell said she first learned about the shack dwellers in an academic article about the issue in 2007. She said she was immediately interested in the topic and is grateful that the activists were so willing to let her into their lives.
Freshman Nina Varilla said the film provided insight into the lives of the activists as well as the movement.
“What was most interesting to me was that these people were not solely activists,” Varilla said. “It was a supplement to their daily lives. It shows that anyone can get involved.”
The documentary showed that the activists were particularly interested in a piece of legislation known as the Slums Act, which gave power to the government and municipalities to evict people without a court order. This allowed the wealthy to take advantage of the poor with little to no justification. The film focused on the group’s efforts to challenge this act in the Constitutional Court.
Freshman Tim Orrell said he found it disconcerting that there was such a gap between those living in poverty and the bourgeoise.
“It was shocking to see the number of people living in conditions that were so different from one part of the country to the next,” Orrell said.
Nsibande and Ndabankulu, the leaders of Abahlali, stressed that the struggle for rights they faced in South Africa is universal. They said it is important for the oppressed to rise up against injustice and use knowledge to overcome adversity.
The Abahlali movement remains active today, according to the filmmakers and activists. The group maintains a strong presence in South Africa and continues to promote the rights of shack dwellers.