connect with DEAR MANDELA

24 05 2011

DEAR MANDELA is set to premiere in South Africa in July 2011. We will be working out the schedule to play elsewhere in the coming weeks and months. Follow these links to best keep informed as we bring the story out into the world:

film website:




Thanks for supporting the film and we look forward to meeting many of you soon.


Rally in solidarity with the Shack Dwellers Movement

9 10 2009

Picture the Homeless, the Poverty Initiative, and Domestic Workers United invite you to

Rally to Support Abahlali basemjondolo

Shack Dwellers Movement

under Attack in Durban, south africa

Friday, October 9 2009

12:00pm- 1:30pm

outside the South African consulate

333 E 38th St, btwn 1st & 2nd Aves

(near 4/5/6 trains at 42nd St)

Members of Picture the Homeless, the Poverty Initiative, and Domestic Workers United, three NYC grassroots organizations, met with representatives from the South African Shack Dwellers Movement Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM) in NYC in August.  As AbM faces attack and repression in Durban, poor and struggling people and our allies in NYC make common-cause & stand with our friends in South Africa!

For more information, contact Picture the Homeless at 646-314-6423 or and

More information about what’s going on in South Africa:


Abahlali baseMjondolo is making the following suggestions, in terms of folks doing actions in solidarity with their movement:

1.       Affirm our right to exist and our right to be critical of the government.

2.       Organize in support of our demands.

3.       Support those of us who have lost their homes and all their possessions with material support.

4.       Support those of us who are traumatized, including the children, with counseling and spiritual support.

5.       Organize serious discussions about the nature of democracy in our country – and include delegates from poor people’s organizations in those discussions on the basis of equality.

You can also take action NOW by calling or e-mailing the South African Consulate and supporting the demands of the Shack Dwellers!

Call: 212-213-4880 or e-mail:

Violent attacks in Kennedy Road informal settlement

30 09 2009

On Saturday night, residents of the Kennedy Road informal settlement were subject to a surprise attack by a group of about 40 armed men. Calls to the police for help were ignored. Although police are claiming two people died, it has been confirmed by Abahlali baseMjondolo that at least four people have been killed: three during the attacks and another died later in hospital. It is reported that the houses of around 30 AbM members were burnt or destroyed by the mob, which was shouting things like “The AmaMpondo are taking over Kennedy. Kennedy is for the AmaZulu” while carrying out the attacks. Hundreds, if not thousands of Kennedy Road residents have fled the community, some seeking refuge at nearby churches. The leaders of Abahlali baseMjondolo and their families have gone into hiding, fearing for their lives.

Here’s a short video about the ongoing crisis in Kennedy Road:

Latest media coverage:

We are shocked and saddened by the behavior of the police and state who stood by and watched while the attacks took place. We’ll keep you posted as the situation develops.

Clip from post Dear Mandela work-in-progress screening discussion

14 09 2009

Mazwi and Reverend Mavuso, speaking at the Poverty Initiative at Union Theological Seminary on the final night of their 2-week U.S. visit.  The discussion was very engaging as folks contemplated how to forge a meaningful solidarity between struggles in the U.S. and the Abahlali movement in South Africa.  Watch below:

The Shack Dwellers Movement in New York City this week!

16 08 2009

We’re very excited to have one of the characters from ‘Dear Mandela’, the teenage community leader Mazwi Nzimande, in New York this week. ‘Dear Mandela’ is a documentary currently in production about young people living in South Africa’s slums, who are trying to halt the forced evictions leading up to the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Please come out to see the shack dwellers in action, hear about their work and find out how you can support their struggle and get involved with anti-eviction struggles right here in NYC. If you can’t make tonight’s event, please come to the Brecht Forum on Wednesday, 19th August or the Poverty Initiative on Thursday, 20th August – details for all three events to follow. Please circulate widely, and hope to see you there!

Sunday, August 16th @ 7PM at BlueStockings

Presentation: Mazwi Nzimande “Shack Dwellers Movement” The Shack Dwellers have emerged as the largest social movement of the poor in post-apartheid South Africa. Please join teenage movement leader and the elected president of the Abahlali Mjondolo Youth League Mazwi Nzimande for a discussion of the ‘real story’ behind the 2010 Soccer World Cup and his communities’ work to end forced evictions. Also, watch a preview of “Dear Mandela,” a documentary by Dara Kell and Christopher Nizza profiling the movement’s youngest leaders.

LOCATION: Bluestockings. 172 Allen St. New York, NY 10002. Ph: 212.777.6028

DIRECTIONS: Bluestockings is located in the Lower East Side of Manhattan at 172 Allen Street between Stanton and Rivington – 1 block south of Houston and 1st Avenue. By train: F train to 2nd Ave, exit at 1st Ave, and walk one block south. By car: If you take the Houston exit off of the FDR, then turn left onto Essex (a.k.a. Avenue A), then right on Rivington, and finally right on Allen, you will be very, very close.

Wednesday, August 19th at the Brecht Forum

Shackdwellers Movement from South Africa at the Brecht Forum DEAR MANDELA (15 min, 2009), a documentary work-in-progress about South Africa’s Shack Dwellers Movement, will be screening at the Brecht forum as part of the Visual Liberation Film Series, curated by Red Channels. Discussion with members of the Shack Dwellers Movement to follow.


ADDRESS: 451 West Street (that’s the West Side Highway) between Bank & Bethune Streets DIRECTIONS: A, C, E or L to 14th Street & 8th Ave, walk down 8th Ave. to Bethune, turn right, walk west to the River, turn left 1, 2, 3 or 9 to 14th Street & 7th Ave, get off at south end of station, walk west on 12th Street to 8th Ave. left to Bethune, turn right, walk west to the River, turn left.

Thursday, 20th August Panel Discussion & Screening at the Poverty Initiative Please join the Poverty Initiative at Union Theological Seminary for an evening of discussion and film about Abahlali baseMjondolo (the Shack Dwellers Movement) of South Africa. Two of their leaders, Mazwi Nzimande and Reverend Mavuso Mbhekiseni, have just returned from the Poverty Initiative’s Poverty Scholars Leadership School. They are spending a week in New York sharing experiences from their work and lives, meeting with Poverty Scholars organizations and building relationships of solidarity with similar movements here. There will be a screening of DEAR MANDELA (15 min, 2009), a documentary work-in-progress about the Shack Dwellers Movement, directed by Dara Kell & Christopher Nizza. The evening will also include a discussion with Poverty Initiative leaders about how to build deeper connections across continents.

TIME: 7:30pm – 9:00pm in Room 205 at Union Theological Seminary, Room 205, New York, NY 10027

LOCATION: Union Theological Seminary is located at 121st Street and Broadway near the Columbia University campus. Take the 1 subway to 116th Street/Columbia University and walk north to 121st Street. When you enter the main entrance at Union Theological Seminary, the guards at the security desk will be able to direct you to Room 205.) The Poverty Initiative’s mission is to raise up generations of religious and community leaders committed to building a movement to end poverty, led by the poor. As we enter the 21st Century, we face increasing polarization of the rich and poor. This is the defining social issue of our time. The Poverty Initiative believes that it is possible to end poverty – not merely manage it. It is our moral imperative and theological calling to do so. For more information or to get our e-newsletter, visit:

Abahlali baseMjondolo is the largest social movement of the poor in post-apartheid South Africa. The movement’s key demand is for ‘Land & Housing in the City’ but it has also successfully politicized and fought for an end to forced removals and for access to education and the provision of water, electricity, sanitation, health care and refuse removal as well as bottom up popular democracy. Amongst other victories the Abahlali have democratized the governance of many settlements, stopped evictions in a number of settlements, won access to schools and forced numerous government officials to ‘come down to the people’. For more information, visit

DEAR MANDELA is scheduled for release in June 2010. The South African government has promised to ‘eradicate the slums’ in time for the Soccer World Cup next year. Across the country, they are evicting families from their shacks, often at gunpoint. DEAR MANDELA follows three of the youngest leaders of the Shack Dwellers Movement – Zama, Mnikelo and Mazwi – from the chaos on the streets to the highest court in the land as they put Nelson Mandela’s promise of ‘a better life for all’ to the test. DEAR MANDELA is a cautionary tale as cities around the world embark on similar slum clearance programs, and serves as an urgent reminder of the right of all human beings to a decent life. For more information, visit Dara Kell PH: 917-749-8002

Shack Dwellers Movement building solidarity in the USA

7 08 2009

Even though the film is still in production, our outreach work has already begun. Our team is committed to using DEAR MANDELA to strengthen social movements around the world. Our youngest character Mazwi Nzimande has been invited by the Poverty Initiative to travel to the United States and join more than 160 leaders from across the country and around the world as they gather for a week in Charleston WV to study together, teach one another, and to work towards Reigniting the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign Today. Mazwi, along with Reverend Mavuso Mbhekiseni, a leader of the Rural Network in South Africa, will then spend a week in New York meeting with members of Picture the Homeless, Domestic Workers United, the Movimiento Por Justicia Del Barrio among others, to build networks of solidarity between South Africa and the US.

Mazwi Nzimande is 18 years old and in his final year at Protea Secondary School in Chatsworth Durban. He lives in the Joe Slovo settlement. His parents were involved in the founding of the settlement and are both domestic workers. He has been involved in many struggles against evictions and police harassment and has worked in solidarity campaigns for Abahlali baseMjondolo activists who have been arrested. In 2008, he was elected as the first chairperson of the Abahlali baseMjondolo Youth League. Mazwi says, “For us in the shacks, we are still struggling just like how we were struggling in the apartheid era. Apartheid is not over. It used to be between the black and the white, now it’s between the rich and the poor.”

PRODUCTION UPDATE: from shack to Constitutional Court

15 05 2009

May 15:

It’s 5 in the morning and we’ve just returned from the Constitutional Court in Jo’burg. Two days ago, 80 shack dwellers (and us) traveled overnight by bus to Jo’burg. After seven hours of singing, praying and not much sleeping, we arrived at the Constitutional Court – the highest court in South Africa. The shack dwellers were there to ask the Constitutional Court judges to declare the ‘Slums Act’ unconstitutional. The Slums Act is the provincial government’s most powerful weapon in its quest to ‘clear the slums’ by 2010, and among other things, gives the government permission to evict shack dwellers to ‘transit camps’ (government-built shacks on the urban periphery), and demolish new shacks.

It was awe-inspiring to hear the most respected judges in the land grilling the advocates about whether the government should take into account the needs of the poorest when deciding whether to evict people from their shacks. The courtroom was packed with shack dwellers old and young wearing red t-shirts that read: ‘from shack to Constitutional Court’. Surely their presence must have moved the judges? The judges seemed very divided, and so it may be many months before a decision is handed down. Nonetheless, the mood was joyful – simply being allowed to have their case heard has been a dream come true for them. Outside the Constitutional Court, in the shadow of Mandela’s old jail cell, the shack dwellers joined hands and prayed for a successful outcome.

High points:

– Super-advocate Wim Trengove arguing the case. Overhead outside the courtroom: “How did you get Wim Trengove on board?” He is a celebrity advocate here in South Africa: he argued successfully for the abolition of the death penalty, represented Nelson Mandela in his divorce action against his wife, Winnie, and prosecuted Jacob Zuma for alleged fraud.

– Justice Yacoob asking: ‘Is a shack a home?” Wim Trengove’s answer: “Yes, undoubtedly.” – The advocate representing the government leaving early (somewhat bashfully), while Wim Trengove was still arguing the case

– getting home and discovering that we shot 144 gigabytes of footage in one day! The hearing lasted the whole day, so we filmed it all. We have the only video footage of the entire hearing, since the court doesn’t record it themselves.

Production Update

22 02 2009

After a year of research and fundraising, we are returning to South Africa to begin Principal Photography on ‘Dear Mandela’ – the feature-length version.  Our cinematographer Matt Peterson and our producer Tina Brown will be joining us.  We will be on location for six weeks.

We’ll be filming the presidential elections on the 22nd February, through the shack dwellers’ eyes.  After a decade of President Thabo Mbeki’s rule, the populist, pro-poor Jacob Zuma is expected to take the helm.  We will also be filming on Freedom Day on the 27th April – the fifteenth anniversary of the very first democratic elections in 1994.  The shack dwellers call it ‘UnFreedom’ Day.  Shack dwellers are traveling from across the country to march, talk, pray, sing, and plan how to make the promises of their leaders a reality.  After filming in Durban and Cape Town, we’ll be back in New York to begin editing and planning the next shoot.

In April, our website is going live!  We’ll be blogging from South Africa, and posting sneak previews of what we’re filming.  Visit in April for production updates, info on screenings and ways to get involved.

‘Dear Mandela’ wins ‘Outstanding Filmmaker Award’

15 05 2008


‘Dear Mandela’, a short film about Abahlali baseMjondolo, has been chosen out of 2500 entries from over 100 countries to be one of 34 films featured on the Pangea Day website, a global hub that seeks to bring the world together through the power of film. Filmmakers Dara Kell and Christopher Nizza spent a week with Abahlali baseMjondolo in December 2007. They produced a short film so that a worldwide audience could learn about the plight, and the fight, of the shackdwellers.

‘Dear Mandela’ was awarded the ‘Outstanding Filmmaker Award’ representing Africa. The award includes a $5,000 grant towards the production of the full-length documentary film, which we are presently fundraising for. We plan to return to South Africa to film for a longer period of time, to capture the scope and complexity of the situation. Here’s an excerpt from the Pangea Day press release:

PARTICIPANT MEDIA AND PANGEA DAY ANNOUNCE THE FIVE WINNING ENTRIES IN THE “OUTSTANDING FILMMAKERS AWARDS PROGRAM” The winners, one from each of the following continents – North America, South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia (including Australia) – were announced this evening in Santa Monica, CA. “Each of the five winning films is an outstanding example of the kind of cinematic storytelling that reflects Participant’s mission to inspire and compel social change,” said Jim Berk, CEO of Participant Media. “On behalf of Participant, I’d like to congratulate all five filmmakers for their remarkable achievements and look forward to seeing the treatments that will be competing for the development grant.”

Thanks to Participant Media for recognizing the powerful story of Abahlali baseMjondolo. Many thanks to our wonderful crew, and to all those who filmed with us in December. We also thank Fazel Khan and Sally Giles for sharing their footage. The international recognition for ‘Dear Mandela’ is affirmation that the story of the Shackdwellers Movement is one that will inspire the action necessary to end the unacceptable conditions in South Africa.

To see the film, go to

Dear Mandela cited in Le Monde diplomatique

6 05 2008

Dear Mandela is cited in an article detailing South Africa’s glaring economic imbalances in this months edition of the French publication Le Monde diplomatique. Philippe Rivière writes a compelling piece covering many aspects of the complex story of the ‘New South Africa.’ These include lack of decent housing, lack of water resources, danger of shack fires, damaging economic policies, growing discontentment with the ANC and the enormous allocation of money for 2010 World Cup related projects. The author also mentions “social movements of extraordinary vitality, such as the Anti-Privatisation Forum and Abahlali baseMjondolo, are beginning to cohere into national networks and are not afraid to speak out or take to the streets.” Readers are encouraged to watch Dear Mandela on YouTube to learn more about Abahlali. Check out the article here: