Dear Mandela


Dear Mandela chronicles the journey of three young leaders whose communities face mass eviction as South Africa prepares to host the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Enacting a policy eerily reminiscent of apartheid-era repression, the government is attempting to 'eradicate the slums' by using armed demolition crews to forcefully remove families from their homes at gunpoint. Dear Mandela tells the story of democratic South Africa's largest organization of poor people, a nonviolent movement to stop the bulldozers that are literally tearing apart lives and communities.

The personal journeys of Mazwi, a serious high school student; Zama, an AIDS orphan; and Mnikelo, a mischievous community organizer are set in motion as the country is gripped by World Cup fever and the most important election since Nelson Mandela led the ANC into power in 1994. During a tumultuous year, Zama, Mnikelo, and Mazwi—who all live in shacks in the slums surrounding Durban—must make difficult choices to survive. As the evictions intensify, they come together with other shack dwellers to form the Shack Dwellers Movement. They decide to take their case to South Africa's version of the Supreme Court: the hallowed Constitutional Court. It is a day of reckoning as the 12 most respected judges in the land must decide whether a shack is, in fact, a home. The case thrusts the Shack Dwellers Movement into the limelight, tipping the fragile balance of power in the slums and unleashing a deadly backlash. As the shack dwellers try to pick up the pieces, Zama, Mazwi, and Mnikelo must prove themselves as leaders.

This new generation of South Africans are too young to remember the day Nelson Mandela was released from prison, but they revere him and his decades-long struggle for a better life for all South Africans. Mandela is an enduring symbol of hope, but the mass evictions, which leave so many homeless, are beginning to erode
that hope. Does Mandela's silence mean consent, or does his age—91—exempt him from blame? As Mandela retreats from public life and becomes more fragile, the question looms large: Who will bind South Africa?

A central idea in the film is one of leadership. As Mandela’s face beams down from every shack wall, schoolroom chalkboard, and church pulpit, our characters grapple with their individual role in shaping a country at war with itself, amidst daily violent township protests, deepening poverty and rampant corruption. In candlelit meetings, the shack dwellers are creating a radical new vision of democracy out of the broken
promises—one that would make Mandela himself proud.

Stunning imagery of the state-of-the-art stadiums and the squalid shantytowns beneath them are a metaphor for the staggering inequality so many in the world must contend with. Dear Mandela is a story set in South Africa, but it could be anywhere as cities around the world begin to shut their doors to the poor.

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