The ANC Are Ruining South Africa
When the apartheid regime ended in 1994, the ANC, once derided as terrorists, became South Africa’s governing political party. Early on, their leader Nelson Mandela promised to build houses for South Africa’s dispossessed. “It is not something we can achieve overnight”, he said. How right he was. Almost 20 years later, large swathes of the country’s poor live in shacks in semi-formal shantytowns. Now these homes are being taken down and the residents forcibly evicted by the Red Ants – private contractors hired by the government to carry out evictions.
In the feature-length documentary, Dear Mandela, directors Dara Kell and Christopher Nizza follow three young shack-dwellers as they try and save their homes. They're torch-carriers for the first post-apartheid generation kids trying to find out if democracy really does exist in their country. The ANC once championed poor black people across the country. Now it seems too mired in corruption and greed to be trusted. In spite of this, its history and the moral authority of its figurehead, Mandela, keep the party from being forsaken. I spoke to Dara Kell about her film.
VICE: What made you want to make this film?
Dara Kell: I grew up during apartheid and was a child of the "Rainbow Nation" – I was 14 when Nelson Mandela was elected. Things changed fast and a lot of wonderful things were happening, but I was really disturbed when I learned that, although many houses had been built, the number of people living in shacks had actually doubled since the end of apartheid. South Africa’s great wealth was not being shared with the poor.
How did you come across this group that are trying to change all that?
In 2007, Christopher Nizza, my filmmaking partner, and I were given an academic article about a new social movement called Abahlali baseMjondolo (Residents of the Shacks). We were immediately intrigued by the potential of this deeply democratic movement to find some way through the seemingly intractable situation of millions of people living in life-threatening conditions in rapidly growing informal settlements. In December 2007, we visited the movement’s headquarters in Durban.
And it was there you met the subjects of your film?
Yes, and in meeting them, we saw that they embodied Nelson Mandela’s pragmatic idealism, his courage and his humility. We were struck by the philosophy of the Abahlali members. They weren’t only talking about what is wrong with South Africa, they were also articulating a profound vision of what the world could be, how we could build a society based on respect, where everyone counts.
We witnessed the trauma caused by unlawful evictions of shack dwellers at the hands of the Red Ants, as well as the courageous resistance by communities all over Durban. We couldn’t walk away – we knew we had to make the film.
When Mazwi Nzimande, one of your young main characters, is addressing the crowd, his cry of "down with the ANC" is met with silence. To me this seemed emblematic of the conflicted emotions the party still produces. People still feel loyal to them don't they?
Mazwi really got into trouble for that statement – mainly from the elders. They wanted to discipline him, but he'd only been saying what was already agreed upon by the Abahlali Youth League, who felt very strongly that the ANC had let them down and that they should say as much. Many people feel very loyal to the ANC and they show their support by voting overwhelmingly in the ANC’s favour – 69% of the vote in 2009, in fact.
Well, it was incredible in its day, I suppose.
Yeah, the ANC is the party predominantly responsible for bringing democracy to South Africa. There's much to be proud of and many people sacrificed their lives to end apartheid. Now, the older generation – my parents’ generation – are either haunted and ostracised because of what they didn't do during apartheid, or promoted and lauded for what they did do and for what they sacrificed. But things are different for the post-apartheid generation.
People Mazwi’s age can see the betrayal more clearly; the corruption and the false promises come election time. I’ve heard older filmmakers tell me that they couldn’t have made Dear Mandela because their loyalty to the ANC, understandably, runs too deep. I'm loyal and grateful to the ANC as well, but I think my outrage at the current situation overrides that loyalty.
Has the ANC let down its core support by failing to provide suitable housing in South Africa?
I believe that the current South African government has failed miserably, not only to provide residents with adequate housing, but also to treat its citizens with dignity. I've seen so many times that residents’ demands – often reasonable things, like more water taps and adequate toilets to prevent disease; all very simple things for the government to provide – the demands are either ignored or met with hostility. When this happens over years and years, is it any surprise that residents see no other choice but to hit the streets in protest?
The ANC government built 1.8 million homes in the 10 years of democracy, but in that same time, two million people lost their homes. Evictions are rife, especially on farms. Evictions are unlawful, yet they happen routinely, and residents are often not provided with alternative housing. During the filming of Dear Mandela, we started hearing about a new tactic: moving people to transit camps. The camps look like prisons and the conditions, the residents say, are even worse than in the shantytowns. They're human dumping grounds, basically.
Do you think people feel personally let down by Nelson Mandela? And do you think that, once he has died, people will be more openly critical of the ANC?
This question goes to the heart of political leadership. The citizens have no idea about the compromises that need to be made. During the transition, Mandela and, in particular, Thabo Mbeki, negotiated a peaceful transition and universal suffrage, but the more radical promises made by the ANC were shoved under the carpet. The distribution of wealth has not changed much: South Africa is one of the most unequal nations in the world. The Freedom Charter, created in 1955, states the ANC’s position very clearly: "Land shall be given to all landless people." "There shall be Houses, Security and Comfort."
It’s a beautifully written manifesto and it’s the way I wish the world could be, but many of South Africa’s leaders – including former freedom fighters like Tokyo Sexwale and Cyril Ramaphosa – have become millionaires and have abandoned the poor. Once Mandela has passed from this world, I’m not sure if we’ll be more willing to criticize the ANC. I think frustration and anger is growing right now and, talking to shack dwellers, it’s clear that the honeymoon period is over. The government needs to make good on its promises, stop corruption, stop evictions and do what’s right.
Follow Oscar on Twitter: @oscarrickettnow
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