In 1978, when 18-year-old Christo Brand arrived in Robben Island Prison, west of the coast of Bloubergstrand, Cape Town, South Africa, the commanding officer gave him and his group of new wardens a small speech on the type of prisoners with whom they would be working. The head of the prison explained that they would be guarding the biggest criminals in the history of South Africa -- including dangerous terrorists. In fact, all the criminals who were supposed to receive the death sentence had been sent to Robben Island.
The head of the prison continued to tell the warders that they mustn't try to have unnecessary communication with the prisoners. He said they mustn't discuss politics or discuss any family members ... they should just do their job. He told them that if a prison official observed them having too long a conversation with one of the prisoners, the accused would be immediately called before his superiors and asked, "What is the private conversation you had with this prisoner?"
Since Brand grew up in a farm community in the Afrikaner hinterland, he didn't know much about politics. He had never heard the name Mandela. Little did he know the prison officials were referring to Nelson Mandela, one of the prisoners he was to guard, as "one of the most dangerous criminals in South Africa."
Brand was headed to B section, where Mandela and all the leaders of the anti-apartheid struggle -- ANC, PAC, all different organizations -- were kept in single cells isolated from the main community section.
Why Mandela Was Imprisoned For Life
Nelson Mandela was a Xhosa born to the Thembu royal family, Mandela attended the Fort Hare University and the Univeristy of Witwatersrand where he studied law. Living in Johannesburg, he became involved in ant-colonial politics.
After the South African National Party came to power in 1948, Mandela rose to prominence in the African National Congress' 1952 Defiance Campaign. The ANC was an organization dedicated to protesting the South African government's government policy of apartheid. Initially committed to non-violent protest, Mandela was appointed superintendent of the organization's Transvaal chapter and presided over the 1955 Congress of the People.
In 1956, Nelson Mandela was arrested on treason charges, but he was acquitted. Tension with the apartheid regime grew, and soared to new heights in 1960 when 69 black people were shot dead by police in the Sharpeville massacre. Following the massacre, the ANC was banned by the government.
This marked the end of peaceful resistance and Mr Mandela, already national vice-president of the ANC, launched a campaign of economic sabotage. In 1961, believing that non-violent measures would not be successful, Mandela and other ANC leaders formed Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), a militant wing of the ANC.
Beginning on December 16, 1961, MK, with Mandela as its commander in chief, launched bombing attacks on government targets and made plans for guerrilla warfare. At that time, Mandela “adopting a number of disguises—sometimes a laborer, other times a chauffeur." The press dubbed him ‘the Black Pimpernel’ because of his ability to evade police.”
Mandela was eventually arrested on August 5, 1962, charged with sabotage and attempting to violently overthrow the government, and sentenced to five years in prison for inciting a workers’ strike in 1961.
A year later, in July 1963, the government arrested 19 ANC leaders and discovered documents describing MK’s plans for attacks and guerrilla warfare.
The government charged 11 ANC leaders, including Mandela, with crimes under the 1962 Sabotage Act. At the Rivonia Trial, Mandela chose not to take the witness stand, instead making a long statement from the dock on April 20, 1964. In it, he explained the history and motives on the ANC and MK, admitting to many of the charges against him and defending his use of violence. "Umkhonto (MK) was necessary," said Mandela in his booming voice, "because the government used violence against the Africans on every possible occasion. And government violence can only do one thing and that is to breed counterviolence."
Mandela was found guilty on four charges of sabotage on June 11. The following day, he and seven of his co-defendants -- Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Denis Goldberg, Elias Motsoaledi and Andrew Mlangen -- were sentenced to life imprisonment, avoiding the death sentence. Mandela and the other six non-white defendants were sent to the prison on Robben Island, a former leper colony located off the coast of Cape Town.
The Routine at Robben Island
Prisoners at Robben Island were housed in cells described by Mandela as “perpetually damp and small enough that he could walk the length of it in three paces.” (7 foot by 8 foot) They were forced to sleep on the floor on a straw mat.
Section B inmates were roused at 5:30 and not let out of their cells until 6:45. After that, the prisoners had to clean their cells. They took their toilet buckets outside where they cleaned them and put them in the sun. The iron buckets were known as "ballies." The ballies had a diameter of ten inches and a concave porcelain lid on the top that could contain water. The water in this lid was meant to be used for shaving and cleaning hands and faces.
After cleaning their cells, some of the prisoners then would start walking some rounds around the courtyard. Then, prisoners in general population delivered breakfast consisting of a bowl of mealie pap porridge, cereal made from maize or corn. In the midst of breakfast, the guards would yell, "Val in! Val in!" (Fall in! Fall in!), and the inmates would stand outside their cells for inspection.
After inspection, prisoners would work in the courtyard hammering stones until noon. There were no breaks; if they slowed down, the warders would yell at them to speed up.
At noon, the bell would clang for lunch and another metal drum of food would be wheeled into the courtyard. For Africans, lunch consisted of boiled mealies, that is, coarse kernels of corn.
After lunch inmates worked until four, when the guards blew shrill whistles, and the prisoners once again lined up to be counted and inspected. They were then permitted half an hour to clean up -- the bathroom had seawater showers, a saltwater tap, and three large galvanized metal buckets, which were used as bathtubs.
Precisely at 4:30 common law prisoners delivered supper by to the inmates' cells. Again, they received mealie pap porridge, but sometimes with the odd carrot or piece of cabbage or beetroot thrown in. Every other day, they received a small piece of meat with their porridge. The meat was usually mostly gristle.
At 8:00 P.M., the night warder would lock himself in the corridor with the inmates, passing the key through a small hole in the door to another warder outside. The warder would then walk up and down the corridor, ordering us to go to sleep. No cry of "lights out" was ever given on Robben Island because the single mesh-covered bulb in the cells burned day and night. Later, those studying for higher degrees were permitted to read until ten or eleven.
Christo Brand meets Nelson Mandela
When Brand entered B section the first day, the sergeant in charge introduced him to Prisoner 46664, Nelson Mandela, then age 60. Mandela had already been in prison for more than a decade. He saw Brand and replied, "Oh, a new warder," and asked him what his surname was in Afrikaans.
Brand remembers, "He had totally a different approach [than] the head of the prison told us. This man was speaking Afrikaans fluently (Mandela studied Afrikaans as a way of building mutual respect with the warders.) and you couldn't see he was dangerous." But, the prison evidently thought Mandela was very dangerous -- he had been restricted to one visitor a year for 30 minutes, and he could write and receive just one letter every six months.
Mandela wrote in his autobiography, Long Walk To Freedom: "I found this one of the most inhumane restrictions of the prison system. Communication with one's family is a human right; it should not be restricted by the artificial gradations of a prison system. But it was one of the facts of prison life."
Prison rules included censoring the letters of prisoners. Some material in mail received was strictly forbidden. For instance, photos, peace signs, and all type of signs of the freedom were not allowed. If a prisoner wrote any message to a person unknown to officials, the officials would refer that message to the security branch, and security could investigate the unknown party. That person may be "on the run" and considered dangerous.
All letters of the leader figures were referred to the security branch that made three copies of the letters -- one for the security branch, one for national intelligence and one for prison files. When the original one was approved, the security branch at Robben Island had a copy to trace back if something deemed forbidden was being smuggled out.
In the beginning, Nelson Mandela was allowed to correspond with only "A-degree," first degree family relatives. And, even these letters were strictly censored. There was no news. Mandela and others really craved news from outside. If Winnie or one of his family members wrote Mandela a letter about a certain bomb blast somewhere, the prison cut that section out.
If letters contained certain things such as information of certain gatherings Winnie attended, then the security branch would find out if this gathering was a legal gathering or if this was a new organization gathering or whatever. In this manner of spying, security could judge any threats and take necessary action.
When Mandela wrote a letter, the prison underlined what was not allowed to go out. They would then take him the letter back and tell him the underlined portions were being refused for political reasons.
So, he had turn in the old letter and rewrite the letter.
Rumors arose that Mandela smuggled letters out of prison. When Brand asked Mandela about these letters, Brand says Mandela replied, "Mr. Brandt, you know if I'm alone in a cell and there's an ant walking there, there is still life around me. It means there's many ways to send a letter out."
Brand reports, "(On one occasion)While I was standing there, a long rope with something heavy on the bottom in a bag was thrown through the window from the top story into Mandela's cell. So he caught it, and he gave it to me. He said, 'Mr. Brand it must be for you.' When I opened it, it was actually for him. Inside was a letter -- the criminal prisoners asking for some tobacco or any foodstuff which he could give them ... then he could put it in a bag ... he could add his letters, they would take it out because ... the criminals go to court every day and it was a way for them to take a letter out."
Brand says he showed Mandela the letter to which Mandela replied, "Mr. Brand you must report this business." And Brand did report the incident. A few days after Brand's report, Mandela was moved to the hospital, and the prison department put louvres on the whole top part of the section of his cell.
Nelson and Winnie Wedding Photo
Visitors At Robben Island
Even when Mandela had visitors at the visiting box on Robben Island, the prison officials cut the sound on the audio device if the prisoner started talking about people other than family or talked about politics. If it happened two or three times, the prison stopped the visit in progress, and that family member or whoever would be not allowed to return or would be restricted under certain conditions for further access.
The visiting room for noncontact visits was cramped and windowless. On the prisoner's side, there was a row of five cubicles with small square pieces of glass that looked out on identical cubicles on the other side. One sat in a chair and looked through the thick, smudged glass that had a few small holes drilled into it to permit conversation.
Three months after his arrival at Robben Island, Nelson was allowed to have his first visit with In Long Walk To Freedom, Nelson, says, "Winnie, I later discovered, had recently received a second banning order and had been terminated from her job at the Child Welfare Office as a result. Her office was searched by the police shortly before she was fired. The authorities were convinced that Winnie was in secret communication with me. Winnie loved her job as a social worker. It was the hands-on end of the struggle: placing babies with adoptive parents, finding work for the unemployed and medical help for the uninsured. The banning and harassment of my wife greatly troubled me: I could not look after her and the children, and the state was making it difficult for her to look after herself. My powerlessness gnawed at me."
Conditions Begin To Change
Conditions on Robben Island began to improve marginally from 1967, with black inmates allowed to wear trousers rather than shorts, games such as draughts and chess being permitted, and the quality of food improving. By 1975, Mandela had been promoted to a Class A prisoner, which allowed him more visits and letters
Perhaps most importantly the institution became known as the "Robben Island University" spearheaded by Nelson Mandela. Mac Maharaj became the prisoner who secretly transcribed Mandela's memoir Long Walk to Freedom and smuggled it out of the prison in 1976.
In a 2002 interview with author Padraig O'Malley, who wrote Shades of Difference: Mac Maharaj and the Struggle for South Africa, inmate Mac Maharaj, explains: "At the quarry we were better placed. We could talk in little clusters as we were working, and at lunch time when we dispersed to sit in the shed and get our food, we were able to talk in a larger body."
Maharaj recalled. "We reached a point where we were just not working at all, we would just go there and go stick our spade into the ground and use that as almost a seat to lean on, like a golfer's seat, and we would re-form, stand around and start having classes, be it history, be it Xhosa, be it English, and the warders would come and try and urge us, push us to work, and we would turn and just take the pick and dig two or three blows and stand."
Prison Workers Break the Rules
On Robben Island, young warders were isolated from the outside world. Every fortnight on Friday they left and were off for two days.
At their own risk, Christo Brand and other warders did break the rules. As Brand and Mandela talked more, both gained a respect for each other. The prison officials knew of Brand’s bond with Mandela and other prisoners. Still, as the apartheid authorities began to soften their stance and explore the possibility of negotiations with Mandela, the friendship was tolerated.
Some of the warders communicated a little with prisoners of Section B when they exercised at the back of the section. "Sometimes, when I greeted Mandela I would ask him how's his health, how is he feeling today. And ask, 'What are you studying?' and be interested in what he was doing. But (at first) there was not really much communication between us," says Brand.
After awhile Brand and the inmates did much more talking. Brand says this forbidden talk often happened at night when they were alone in Section B of Robben Island. For example, Brand says, "I communicated with Andrew Mlangeni and he asked me what I was doing during the day. I said, 'We are fishing.' He said the next time I am to bring him a piece of fish. And one day ... I brought him a piece."
According to Brand, on occasions when Mandela was stopped from conversing, he immediately apologized, changed the subject, and carried on. Brand says, "He was quite a gentleman." Brand viewed Mandela as confidant.
One occasion when Winnie came to Robben Island with Mandela's baby grandchild, she was not allowed to bring the child into the visiting booth. Mandela was denied access to all children under age 16. So that child was kept back, and held in the waiting room by somebody else while Winnie had her visit. After she talked with Mandela, he requested to see or touch the child. He was denied; however, Mandela pleaded so much that Brand eventually fetched the child.
Brand remembers the incident: "So I take the child through the back door, and we call Mandela and we put it in his arms, unexpected. We tell him he must keep quiet about it. We can lose our jobs here. And he said, 'Oh,' and he held the child, and he kissed the child. There were really tears in his eyes at that moment. We took the child immediately out of his arms, took it back to Winnie, who didn't know that he had seen the child. The lady inside didn't know where I had taken the child to. Nobody knew that Mandela had ever seen the child. Mandela kept it a secret from everybody, I think. And so we were very pleased."
No one ever knew about the visit for fear of the possible consequences for both Brand and Mandela. Not even his wife.
During all of those isolating years on Robben Island, Mandela loved to look at the view of the very top of Table Mountain in Cape Town. Brand remembers Mandela would look to this view wondering if he would ever be free. Brand says Mandela was always preparing for that day, and he asked the jailer to teach him Afrikaa Afrikaans. “Like me, Mandela came from a farm. He was a human being. We understood that we shared the same sky and the same air,” Brand relates.
In April 1982 Mandela was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in Tokai, Cape Town, along with senior ANC leaders Walter Sisulu, Andrew Mlangeni, Ahmed Kathrada and Raymond Mhlaba. The prisoners believed that they were being isolated to remove their influence on younger activists.The prison was likely trying to break the spirit of the ANC. But, once there, they found the conditions at Pollsmoor better than at Robben Island. The atmosphere there was "more relaxed" and communication was "better."
Christo Brand had fought for a transfer to the mainland over and over until after his honeymoon in 1982, the commanding officer granted his move to Pollsmoor prison to work in B4 section, the same part of the prison where Mandela had been transferred. Perhaps the government wanted to maintain the close relationship between Mandela and Brand.
Eventually Brand was moved to the censor office where he assisted procuring books and materials for Mandela from organizations like UNISA, UTAS. Brand also, with the aid of a motorbike, was able to post letters from the prisoners before sending them to the security branch. He and a man named Gregory went through the incoming mail, heard any complaints from prisoners about their mail, and recorded their problems.
According to Brand, if warders entered the cell at Pollsmoor, Mandela would make some coffee and ask them to eat and drink coffee with him. And, at Pollsmoor they discussed Mandela's "problems with his letters" and "his studies" while they were drinking coffee together. Mandela asked Brand about his family, his upbringing, and his fears for the future.
Mandela was also allowed to read voraciously and corresponding widely. The steadily aging revolutionary was now permitted 52 letters a year – still a meager concession for someone who had become cemented as the face and the conscience of the anti-apartheid struggle in the outside world.
Getting on well with Pollsmoor’s commanding officer, Brigadier Munro, Mandela was permitted to create a roof garden, which he called "one of his happiest diversions -- a way of escaping the monolithic concrete that surrounded him." Mandela each morning put on a straw hat and rough gloves and worked in the garden for two hours.
Every Sunday, he would supply vegetables to the kitchen so that they could cook a special meal for the common-law prisoners. He also gave quite a lot of his harvest to the warders, who used to bring satchels to take away their fresh vegetables.
In Long Walk To Freedom, Mandela explains: “A garden was one of the few things in prison that one could control. To plant a seed, watch it grow, to tend it and then harvest it, offered a simple but enduring satisfaction. The sense of being the custodian of this small patch of earth offered a taste of freedom.
“In some ways, I saw the garden as a metaphor for certain aspects of my life. A leader must also tend his garden; he, too, plants seeds, and then watches, cultivates, and harvests the results. Like the gardener, a leader must take responsibility for what he cultivates; he must mind his work, try to repel enemies, preserve what can be preserved, and eliminate what cannot succeed.”
Of course, at Pollsmoor, Nelson Mandela continued to be under strict surveillance. There was a one-way glass in the larger main to view the actions of prisoners. The prison also bugged the area with microphones and with a tape recorders, sometimes direct linked to the office.
Christo Brand says, "Somebody would listen to our conversation. Then, I would go into the cell and call Mandela to one side, and I would give him his message. Then, he would maybe not accept it. He would give me feedback. I would report that to the officers. Then I would tell him also, 'Please put it on paper for me.' But immediately the officer had the answer already. They had listened to the conversation."
But, Mandela did continue to request private conversations with Brand. Sometimes Mandela offered to make them coffee when Brand was bugged. Brand says he warned Nelson about the recording device saying, "No Mandela, I don't want to drink coffee now." And then he would show Mandela that he was "bugged."
When it was impossible to show Mandela the bugs because other officers were watching, Brand would give him a tip with the eye to "cut things short." Brand recalls, "I said, 'Let us go to the garden' because I couldn't switch (off) the system on me. I was afraid the people could also pick me out... that I have discussed certain things with him, private things, private conversations."
When asked why he took many chances to talk privately with Mandela, Brand says he did so simply "because he wanted to."
In fact, one day Brand remembers he, Smuts, and Terblanche -- three warders -- were called to the head office. Smuts was interrogated first about his conversations with Mandela.
Brand says he later found out Smuts was asked about what he thought of Mandela. Brand recounts the incident: "He (Smuts) said, 'Mandela is a politician. He is a man of politics fighting for his people.' The officials all jumped up. They were very upset. They said, 'You are not supposed to work on the section.' They gave him a hard talk. They chased him out of the office. They called Mr. Terblanche in. I asked Smuts what was going on ... Immediately, I was geared for that question."
When Brand had his turn and asked what he thought about the man, he claims he said, "Oh, I think Mandela should have been hanged that time. He just gives us a [hard] time and unnecessary complaints in this prison. I don't think he should have been [brought] here." Brand learned to lie to his superiors to keep his job and to keep his friendship with Mandela.
For his response, the prison officials congratulated Brand. After that Brand claims his superiors were "very fond" of him and moved him into a new office. At Pollsmoor, since Brand was not politically motivated outside the prison, he was permitted to work with classified information and in special areas. they extra security checked me out.
For example, if Mandela had a visit, Brand monitored the visit and recorded it in its entirety, and then sent it by telex to the head office. And the same time, the security branch got the copy of the tape. In that way, all visits were strictly monitored.
In 1985, after Mandela had a prostate operation, the prison continued to ease conditions. They moved him back to Pollsmoor in an isolation section where there were three cells: he stayed in one and used another one for his bathroom and storage area. The final empty room was reserved for the warders. Mandela also had a private exercise yard.
But, before he moved into the quarters, the prison bugged this section with recording devices that automatically came on when conversations took place. The head of the prison and two deputies could listen to all conversations in Mandela's cells. That is, unless they allowed him to listen to the radio or watch television. Brands says that the prison officials were afraid of conversations that he would have with night shift warders ... that's why they put the bugs there.
More Freedoms And Help From Christo Brand
The friendship between Nelson Mandela and Christo Brand continued to flourish.
One Christmas season an entire group applied to see Mandela.The commanding officer had gone on leave, so the deputy commanding officer gave Brand instructions to take Mandela to the other prisoners' section where no monitoring devices were installed. Brand says, "I was thinking maybe they don't want it to be monitored. So I take Mandela there, alone by car ... I also go on lunch (at) home because it was not necessary for me to record anything."
Brand continues: "So after my lunch, I go back to fetch Mandela. Then I forgot something at home, and I said to Mandela, 'I'll just pop in at my place quickly." So I stopped there with the car, and I called my wife out, and he greeted my wife and had a chat there at the car, and we moved slowly on back to Pollsmoor prison."
On another occasion, when Brand had attained the position of warrant officer, he took his year-old son with him for a required review of his sections. "I took him into Mandela's cell, and Mandela touched my child, and talked to him and gave him sweets and things."
Mandela also wrote a small letter, which he smuggled out to Brand's wife with a friend of Brand's to tell her she must motivate her husband to study. He still has that small letter today. Brand also claims Mandela sent a chocolate to his wife without his knowing it.
In 1985, Justice Minister Nelson Mandela and Kobie Coetsee held a series of meetings. Brand called the meetings "special night occasions." One night they were ordered to take Mandela to Kobie Coetsee's house on a "secret mission." Brand had to fetch Mandela's suit because he was not allowed to keep the suit in his cell. They left at the back door of the prison so as not to alert anyone else. This visit involved no guards. But, national intelligence was waiting for them.
Coetsee, whose original motive was to neutralise Mandela by offering him freedom in exchange for a public renunciation of violence, was among the first Afrikaner nationalist politicians to grasp the truth that white minority rule really was doomed.
At Kobie Coetsee's house, Mandela started negotiating in a special garage that was monitored and recorded by cassette. The warders were not allowed to listen the recordings -- only national intelligence was dealing with those conversations. But, Brand was there, and he remembers still the way one day when Mr. Kobie Coetsee asked Mandela what he going to drink, and Mandela said, "Sir, I will drink the same as you."
Brand recalls, "So Mr. Kobie Coetsee ordered, and Mandela took the same drink. That was whiskey on ice. That I can still remember and when we walked out one day. Mandela stood with his hand around Mr. Kobie Coetsee. He said to Mr. Kobie Coetsee, 'You know, when we walked out here, Mr. Munro, Mr. Brand, Mr. Gregory there... they will say look he has become white.' And we made a joke of it, and all of us were laughing for this joke. So we got him (Mandela) in the car and took him back to Pollsmoor."
After Coetsee's discussions with Mandela, the prison officials allowed Nelson more movement. They received instructions from the head office that they must take Mandela out for a Sunday afternoon trip somewhere outside Pollsmoor. On these trips, Mandela was suddenly discovering things such as technological advances in cars, in televisions, and in radios. He had been in prison so long that he had no idea about what was happening in the real world.
"The first time we took him out in a car, was a big surprise for him. He was standing next to the door. He tried to open this door. He was looking for a button to press. The year when he got to prison, the cars didn't have handles which lift up, and he was standing outside and he knocked. He said, 'Mr. Brand, I can't open the door.' I said, 'Just open the handle there, the handle is there.' He said he can't find the handle. I said, 'Just put your hand in and lift the thing.' He didn't know how to open it."
One time Mandela came into Brand's home. He actually stood inside and talked on the phone.
Another time, they took him to Constantia to visit a farmer. The farmer was not worried about talking with Mandela. They all walked through the grapes, and Mandela picked some grapes to eat.
On yet another occasion, they took Mandela to a big dam in Pollsmoor where children would often fish. He got out of the car. While the commanding officer and Brand sat watching him in the car, Mandela walked alone there on the side of the dam and talked to the children while they were fishing.
Winnie Mandela Targeted Also
Nomzamo Winfreda Zanyiwe Madikizela met lawyer and anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela in 1957. They married in 1958 and had two daughters
In the early hours of the morning of May 12, 1969, the security police awakened Winnie, Nelson's wife, at home in Orlando and detained her without charge under the 1967 Terrorism Act, which gave the government unprecedented powers of arrest and detention without trial.
In Pretoria, Winnie was denied bail and visitors; over the next weeks and months, she was relentlessly and brutally interrogated. Winnie Spent 17 months in solitary confinement in Pretoria Central Prison.
Nelson Mandela said, "There was nothing I found so agonizing in prison as the thought that Winnie was in prison too. I put a brave face on the situation, but inwardly I was deeply disturbed and worried. Nothing tested my inner equilibrium as much as the time that Winnie was in solitary confinement.
"Although I often urged others not to worry about what they could not control, I was unable to take my own advice. I had many sleepless nights. What were the authorities doing to my wife? How would she bear up? Who was looking after our daughters? Who would pay the bills? It is a form of mental torture to be constantly plagued by such questions and not have the means to answer them."
For their safety, Winnie decided to send the children to boarding school in Swaziland.
After her involvement in the 1976 Soweto Uprisings, she was exiled for years to Brandfort in the Free State. With Nelson emerging as an international figurehead for the political prisoners, the ANC made a conscious decision not only to bolster his image but that of his wife, highlighting the persecution she was suffering at the hands of the authorities.
In 1986, she decided to move back to Soweto and confront matters head on, becoming an international celebrity as she outspokenly espoused the cause and raised her husband to superstar status.
She was allowed to visit Nelson at Pollsmoor. His warder, Christo Brand, confirms that Nelson and Winnie were very close. He could see that Nelson really loved her. And, Winnie was his main instrument outside to do things on his behalf. Nelson would worry about reports that she was ill or worry about her driving.
In Brand's words, "Nelson was very caring for her. You could see, he was very caring for Winnie. After all those years the love was still between them. The first occasion when they greeted each other, it seemed if they'd just married. And you could see there was big respect, like I said, for each other."
Brand does tell of some points of tension between Winnie and Nelson. At times during her visits at Pollsmoor, he wanted her to note certain things, and if she didn't have a notebook, he would argue about it, saying she she must always "be ready" for a visit. Nelson sometimes gave Winnie certain instructions to do for him on the outside. If she returned for the next visit without doing these things, Nelson would be cross with her and tell her she had to write down his instructions so she wouldn't forget the details.
But, when Nelson went to these visits with Winnie, he would have all important notes with him. Brand says, "He already prepared notes two days or three days in advance, exactly what to discuss in this meeting. He was ready for her and she must take certain notes down and try to do certain things for him outside. Then, she would come with information from outside from him. Later years, we were not so strict on the politics. Things became easier for him to get news and information from outside. Newspapers were not censored, news was not censored, they had [ their] own radio, own TV, everything ..."
At one point, people were leaving newspaper articles in Mandela's cell with negative things about Winnie, trying to smear her reputation. Brand remembers that through it all, Mandela was very positive. He always believed in Winnie and said the campaign was part of the security branch's struggle to break her down.
Also, Brand recalls one time that Winnie broke her arm in a accident. Nelson was worried about that accident, and reported it to Brand. Mandela said straightforward Winnie had said that the security branch pushed her off the road on that occasion. Even then, though terribly worried, Nelson remained positive.
Mandela, Sisulu, and Kathrada
Nelson Mandela had a special relationship with Walter Sisulu and Ahmed Kathrada, two of the leaders of the movement sentenced to life imprisonment. This relationship was built on mutual respect.
Sisulu had been best man in Mandela's wedding with Winnie, and Brand affirms there was a special friendship between Mandela and Sisulu and Kathrada. Kathrada was always honored to help them and do favors for them. When Sisulu wanted to talk, they would all keep quiet and listen to him. Even Mandela listened to Sisulu. For example, Walter knew how to calm down Mandela about arguments with warders.
Mandela joking explained Sisulu's influence to Brand on one occasion, "Mr. Brand, you know, if I didn't listen to this old man, I should have never been in prison. I came from Transkei to study here, then this old man motivated me to join him and going with him with the politics. So I end up in prison now. I should have never been here. I was not interested in politics."
Ahmed Kathrada was also very close to Mandela. When Mandela was isolated, Kathrada would send notes and give them to Brand, and Brand would pass them on to Mandela. And, in turn, Mandela would secretly give Brand small notes to take to Kathrada, Brand said that both Kathrada and Mandela would keep their secrets. At times, Brand fell under suspicion from his superiors but he kept doing his undercover activities.
Brand talks of the friendship: "Kathrada ... he would give his last cent, it he had one cent in his pocket, he would give it away to Mandela. So he was near to Mandela. He would do himself short to try to please the others. Not only with Mandela, but with everybody."
Mandela, A Unique Personality
Although former Prime Minister Tony Blair once said Nelson Mandela was "very down-to-earth with a lovely quiet humility to him," Mandela could be forceful. After all his struggles, he was not bitter and vindictive, but he was a leader on a mission.
For example, Brand says Mandela could get very angry about some things. "If there was really something disturbing him or somebody lied to him, he did not accept people lying to him. Must rather tell him you can't do it, but you mustn't lie to him. Especially [if you] took something of him and lied to him. You should've told him you took it. Then he would accept it, in a way. But if you lied to him ... then he was very upset."
Christo Brand, himself, was able to appease Mandela one time after 1985 when Mandela was in isolation. He reports this is a one occasion when he saw Mandela get very "cross." It seems a warder named Zeeman asked to see Mandela's newspaper. Mandela gave him the paper. Zeeman read the paper and wanted to give it back to Mandela that night, but Mandela was asleep, so he just put it inside the grill. But a person in charge of night duty took the newspaper with him.
The next morning Mandela told Brand that he wanted his paper. Brand called Zeeman and discovered Zeeman said he had left it in the grill. Brand informed Mandela, and Mandela said he wanted to see Zeeman. Brand says, "He was very cross. He really gave him ... it seems he wanted to slap him that day. But there was a big argument, and I tried to calm Mandela down because he was really upset that day. And the next day we find the newspaper coming back from the night duty, the person who took it by coincidence."
Mandela sometimes demanded certain things. When he requested these things from an ordinary warder, he would often be helped in his request, but if Mandela put in his request to higher levels, like the commanding officer or the generals, they would tell him the request would go to the minister. According to Brand, then the answer to his request was "it's refused."
Brand recalls one of Mandela's most interesting requests was for a hot plate because he wanted to warm up his food at night. Brand, personally, referred the request to the commanding officer, and the commanding officer said he couldn't approve it. The persistent Mandela insisted on referring the request to the commissioner, then to the minister -- they all denied the request for the hot plate. The disagreement stayed quiet for about a month.
Then, the head of the prison came back from leave and visited Mandela. Mandela asked him nicely for the hot plate. The head of prison said, "Mr. Brand, go and buy the plate for the man." But, Brand told the head of the prison he must "approve it" on paper. Mandela said he had already written the request. Mandela took it out of his drawer, put in a date on it, and the head of the prison approved it.
So, Brand says he bought it immediately. But, a month later the commanding officer visited Mandela. And the officer was quite shocked to see Mandela with the hot plate. Brand told him the head of the prison had approved it. After that Mr. Kathrada and the other people also get hot plates. Mandela had scored a small victory for all.
Mandela Refuses Release
In February, 1985, South African State President Pieter Willhelm Botha offered Nelson Mandela a
release from prison on condition that he '"unconditionally rejected violence as a political weapon." Mandela spurned the offer, releasing a statement through his daughter Zindzi stating "What freedom am I being offered while the organisation of the people [ANC] remains banned? Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts."
Denis Goldberg, the only white member of Umkhonto we Sizwe to be arrested and sentenced in the Rivonia Trial to life imprisonment, was released from a white prison in Pretoria in 1985. Goldberg described the issue of being white and involved with the armed struggle as follows: "Being black and involved (in the struggle) meant you had the support of many people and it meant you got to be part of a community. Being white and involved meant being isolated."
Govan Mbeki was released from custody on November 5, 1987.
And on October 15, 1989, Ahmed Kathrada, Andrew Mlangeni, Walter Sisulu, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Motsoaledi and others were released from a Johannesburg prison.
Transfer To Victor Verster Prison
Mandela was transferred again in 1988 when the ANC leader was moved to a bungalow in the grounds of Victor Verster prison in the Cape wine lands. Here, he spent his last three of captivity. Christo Brand was transferred there also.
With increasing local and international pressure for Mandela's release, the government participated in several talks with Mandela over the ensuing years, but no deal was made. It wasn't until Botha suffered a stroke and was replaced by Frederik Willem de Klerk that Mandela's release was finally announced—on February 11, 1990. De Klerk also unbanned the ANC, removed restrictions on political groups, and suspended executions.
On the day of Nelson Mandela's release, Brand watched the proceedings on television. He says that he was very pleased to see the big reception Mandela received. Brand remembers Mandela delivered his speech in Afrikaans. Mandela famously said, "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart."
Brand phoned Kathrada and Sisulu that night but didn't get to talk with Mandela. But soon, Mandela phoned him. Unfortunately, Brand was not at home, but Nelson talked to Brand's children.
When Mandela was eventually freed from Victor Verster in 1990, Brand was bereft. “When he was released, the prison was empty for me,” he said. “He was very down to earth. And he was a person who loved children. When I had a problem, he would give me advice.”
Even today, Brand said he still finds wondrous how Mandela was able to transform their relationship. “He was my prisoner,” he said. “But he was my father.”
Prisoners, A Warder, and a Nation
Nelson Mandela believed saying to walk free is not merely to cast off change but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. He did something behind those prison walls that was dress rehearsal for what he would do later in the world.People inside and outside Robben Island and Pollsmoor viewed Nelson Mandela as a leader. Even if there was person from a different political background, in PAC or any other organization, they respected Mandela as a leader.
These people -- the political prisoners -- were all comrades together on Robben Island. Though they had differences in politics, they respected the leaders of the sections. Brand says the warders observed that Mandela was the leader trying to be in control of his people inside the prison. If there was a problem inside, Mandela consistently sent messages to try to solve the problem. What more can an imprisoned leader do?
To Christo Brand, it seemed that the government respected his views after 1985 because they started negotiating with him. Mandela always told him he had tried to become active in reform from the '60s. Then, Mandela wrote letters to Verwoerd, and he wrote letters to Diedericks, yet they never answered his letters.
Brand says when the Eminent Person Group, the group established to investigate apartheid that recommended economic sanctions against South Africa, listened and respected Mandela, he started believing Mandela would become the leader of his country.
And, remarkably, as their personal relationship grew, Christo Brand respected Nelson Mandela as his leader.
Brand says, "After '85, after negotiations started ... I was thinking that he will be the leader of the people outside - not, say, my leader. But I listened to him. I would never say I agreed with him, I would never say (I did) not agree with him. But after he came to Victor Verster and then was released, I respected him as a leader for South Africa people. And later he became my leader. And I was very proud that one of my prisoners, which I looked after, became my leader now. And I felt very proud and happy when I was invited to his birthday party. That one of my ex-prisoners, is the president now."
Years after his imprisonment, when Mandela was president, he took special care to single out Christo Brand for recognition while Brand was a lowly civil servant. While South Africa's new constitution was being drafted, Mandela flew in by helicopter and entered the room where members of parliament were debating the new constitution.
Mandela went around the room shaking hands with parliamentarians but when he saw Brand, who was distributing documents, Mandela lifted his arms and warmly greeted him.
Brand says, "He immediately made a big announcement to everyone: 'You know who is this person? This person was my warden, this person was my friend.'" Brand said he felt very humble and proud at that moment. After that when the parliamentarians went out for a group photo, Mandela insisted that Brand be in the photo. "He said 'No, no. You must stand next to me, we belong together.'"
John Carlin. "Interview: Christo Brand." Frontline. PBS.
Nelson Mandela. Long Walk To Freedom. Macdonald Purnell. 1995.
Andrew Meldrum and Fazlur Phillips. "Christo Brand, Nelson Mandela's Jailer, Mourns His Death. Huffington Post. December 07, 2013.
"Nelson Mandela's Jailer Recalls Feelings of Respect With Peace Leader." ABC News. December 05, 2013.
Alex Perry. "Mandela's Jailer: 'He Was My Prisoner, But He Was My Father.'" Time Magazine. December 06, 2013
Alex Perry of Time reports Desmond Mpilo Tutu once told me he believed prison was the making of Nelson Mandela.
Tutu said: “I often surprise people when I say this. Suffering can lead to bitterness. But suffering is also the infallible test of the openness of a leader, of their selflessness. When Mandela had gone to jail, he had been 'one of the most angry.' The suffering of those 27 years helped to purify him and grow the magnanimity that would become his hallmark. Jail helped Mandela learn how to make enemies into friends. It also gave him an unassailable credibility. When you speak of forgiveness, 27 years in prison sets you up very nicely."