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Film Screening Details Struggle of South African Shackdweller Movement

October 10, 2012

Dara Kell, director of the documentary, Dear Mandela, screened her film about the government’s unconstitutional practice of evicting shack dwellers in post-apartheid South Africa.

The film follows the journey of three young South Africans in their journey from South Africa’s shacks to its highest court in an effort to eradicate government practices intended to destroy shantytowns and leave many South Africans homeless. As the film chronicles, due to the efforts of the Shackdwellers Movement, a shantytown organization protesting the government’s eviction practices, South Africa’s highest court eventually declared the government’s eviction practices unconstitutional.

Following the screening, Kell and two of the leaders from the movement, Mnikelo Ndabankulu and Zodwa Nsibande, discussed their journey.

The shack dwellers were driven by the realization that Nelson Mandela’s promise to house all South Africans, as codified in South Africa’s constitution, was being egregiously violated, Nsibande said. Nsibande explained that South Africa’s constitution prohibited the destruction of shacks without a court order and an adequate alternative to shack housing. However, the government’s “Red Ants,” a group of government contractors, would frequently raid and destroy the shantytowns without any justification, she said. 

Ndabankulu, who is also featured in the film, discussed how lawyers played a role in the movement. Ndabankulu indicated that it was not as if the shack dwellers did not know their rights but rather that they needed a voice and forum to express their concerns. Ndabankulu explained that lawyers were essential in bridging that gap between the wronged shack dwellers and South Africa’s highest court.

However, Ndabankulu cautioned that there are “good lawyers and there are bad lawyers,” in this case, he was grateful for the good ones who respected the shack dwellers mantra and recognized that just because you are “poor in life, does not mean you must be poor in mind.”

This event was co-sponsored by the American Constitution Society, Drexel National Lawyers Guild, Black Law Students Association, and the International Law Society.