Christo Brand is a South African former prison guard who was one of several that were responsible for guarding Nelson Mandela. He came to Robben Island, where Mandela was being held, in 1978 when he was 19 years old.
In 1982 he was transferred along with Mandela to Pollsmoor Prison. Christo and Mandela developed a close friendship over the course of many years. He is the co-author of his book, Doing Life with Mandela: My Prisoner, My Friend (2014). Christo retired from Robben Island on 31st July 2018 to pursue his storytelling on a full-time basis.
How was it possible for these two men from such seemingly different backgrounds to develop a relationship which was to become so much more – a lasting friendship based on a mutual trust and respect for each other?
Surely, they should have hated each other. One was a white, 18-year-old Afrikaans speaking prison guard representing the oppressive, apartheid regime of the time; the other – a black, 60-year-old Xhosa speaking terrorist serving a life sentence.
Rather than join the army for National Service as was compulsory for every South African white male, Christo decided to join the prison service. After training for a year in Kroonstad, he applied for a post on Robben Island because he wanted to be close to home.
His application was successful and at the age of 19 he was sent to work on Robben Island in 1978. That was when Christo first came across Nelson Mandela who at that time was 60 years old. This was where they formed a relationship which was to become so much more. A close friendship built on trust and mutual respect for each other.
In 1982, Mandela was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison. On 13th March that year, Christo married Estelle. Soon afterwards, Christo was transferred to Pollsmoor and was responsible for guarding Mandela for the next 6 years.
Later Mandela was moved to Victor Verster Prison and the talks about his release escalated.
On his release, Mandela organised a job for Christo as an administrative and logistics manager in the Constitutional Assembly. Once the Constitution was adopted, Ahmed Kathrada organised for Christo to start work again on Robben Island – this time as supervisor in the island shop.
The wheel had turned full circle and Christo was back where he started his work career. But this time on an island freed of prisoners – a place of healing and reconciliation.
A place of endless fascination to international tourists, historians, political activists and anyone with an interest in South Africa’s turbulent past. On 31st July 2018 after 20 years at Robben Island, Christo retired to pursue his storytelling on a full-time basis.
Forgiveness and reconciliation
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