When Christo met Madiba

Christo Brand
BOLDtalks 2014

An incredible talk by Christo Brand, Nelson Mandela's prison guard, on their unlikely relationship that turned into a lifetime friendship.

Christo Brand was 19 when he came to Robben Island, a new recruit from the South African prison service.

He was assigned to B Section where political prisoners, all the high command of the notorious ANC, were kept in maximum security.

He expected to find hostile broken outcasts. Instead he met honourable men bonded by their deep devotion to freedom in their country. Men who were courteous to the wardens as well as each other, whose only wish was to study hard and be ready for government one day. Men led by the towering figure of Nelson Mandela, a calm disciplined and dignified man who treated Christo with respect and humanity.

Mandela showed concern for Christo and his family. They talked as equals yet Christo's job meant he had to supervise Mandela scrubbing floors and emptying toilet buckets.

They worked together on a little garden Mandela cherished in the prison courtyard. Both men from farming communities, they grew aubergines and tomatoes and talked about mealies.

The spark of friendship grew to a flame as Mandela was first transferred to the mainland -- Christo went with him -- and gradually made approaches to the apartheid government. Christo took him on secret outings for talks with the Minister of Justice, and saw the older man's wonderment at his surroundings outside the prison environment where he had spent 27 years.

Mandela maintained his friendship with the warder after his release, giving him a job in Parliament. He befriended Christo's elder son and offered him a scholarship and help with his career. He invited Christo to every special event -- his birthday parties and other celebrations.

When Mandela died Christo was among very few whites to be invited to his funeral with the family.