An apprehensive look grew on the residents’ faces. Children with glazed eyes stared at the struggling creature. One mother cried in protest, asking how they could let kids help with this. And then one gentleman took a knife and killed a sickly-looking goat. This is South Africa today.
On Thursday night, Dear Mandela showcased in The Bright Family Screening Room. The audience was made up of Emerson students, faculty, and Boston residents with ties to South Africa such as Jonathan Wacks, professor and chair of the visual and media arts department. Wacks previously taught at the University of Cape Town.
The documentary follows Mazwi, a South African who is the youth leader for Abahladi base Mjondolo, a protest organization formed to fight The Slums Act. Mazwi, along with the documentary’s co-director Dara Kell, took questions from the audience after the viewing.
The Slums Act is a 2007 law to rid provinces of slums deemed unlawful and unsightly by the South African government. The government would then use force to relocate residents to undesirable transit camps, often by burning their homes to get them to leave.
In these camps — also known as “the tins” — 7,000 people shared one tap for water, residents stole electricity, and paved roads were non-existent.
The documentary is titled Dear Mandela after a promise Nelson Mandela made to the people of South Africa that he would ensure housing for all citizens during his presidency from 1994 to 1999. However, almost two decades later, the number of families living in slums has nearly doubled, according to the film’s website.
“The Slums Act is similar to apartheid,” said Mazwi in a question and answer session after the viewing. “It separates the poor from the rich, just like apartheid separated the white from the black.”
When asked about the film’s reception thus far, Kell seemed eager to prove it made a difference.
“South Africans want this film because of the conversations that happen after,” said Kell. According to her, the documentary airs frequently on television in South Africa.
Mazwi said he is unsure if the African National Congress’s — the parliamentary party in South Africa that holds the majority of power in the country — time has passed, comparing it to how politics have played out in the United States.
“I wish the South African government was more like America’s,” said Mazwi. “The U.S. Presidents went from Clinton, to Bush, to Obama,” he said in reference to the freedom that Americans have to decide which political party takes office.
This is in comparison to South Africa’s multitude of background parliamentary parties. The ANC has held majority power since the late ‘90s.
The documentary reveals that opposition prompted the Constitutional Court to rule The Slum Act invalid, and the government was forced to pay all legal costs.
Mazwi argues that the government’s decline to comment should be seen as a gesture that it knew it was wrong.
“Here in South Africa, no one writes about the poor,” said Mazwi. “Just because we are poor,doesn’t mean we are poor in life.”