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Prison guard who befriended Nelson Mandela speaks at Warwick Academy

Bridging the divide: Human rights hero Nelson Mandela and Christo Brand, the Afrikaner jailer who became his friend when the future South African president was imprisoned by the country’s apartheid regime (Photograph supplied)

A prison guard who befriended anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela when he was behind bars for 27 years has delivered a virtual talk at a Bermudian school.

Christo Brand, a guard at the maximum security jail on Robben Island, off Cape Town, South Africa, where Mr Mandela was held for 18 years, spoke to pupils at Warwick Academy about his respect for the man who went on to become the country’s first Black president after he was released in 1990.

Jane Vickers, the school’s director of development & marketing, said: “When Mandela arrived at Robben Island he was in solitary confinement and Mr Brand was assigned to him.”

Ms Vickers added that the two “formed a secret respect and friendship that last through the whole time Mandela was imprisoned and became public once Mandela was released”.

She said: “Throughout their time together, Mandela constantly talked about education and the importance of it, telling Mr Brand to continue his studies over the years.”

Ms Vickers said pupils asked Mr Brand for three words to describe Mr Mandela, who died in 2013.

Mr Brand told them at the Tuesday virtual event that “Mandela was honest, humble and polite”.

Ms Vickers added. “He said Mandela stayed the same person from prisoner to president to retirement – he never changed.

“He was humble and down to earth always, saying study hard and make your parents proud of you.”

Mr Brand said Mr Mandela told him: “Education is the great engine of personal development.

“It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mine worker can become the head of the mine, that a child of a farmworker can become president of a great nation.

“It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.”

Ms Vickers added: It was probably one of the best talks I've heard and was such an excellent message for our students to hear.“

She said Mr Brand and Mr Mandela both grew up in rural South Africa and said country life fostered respect and acceptance of others.

Ms Vickers said: “Mr Brand was a white man living in apartheid South Africa.

“His early days were spent on a farm and respect for your elders, despite one’s colour, was drilled into him by his father which came to play a vital and important value that helped created history.”

Ms Vickers said Mr Brand became a prison guard to avoid mandatory national service in the racist apartheid era South African Army because he “had no desire at all to join the army to kill Black people”.

She added: “Fortunately, he was told about the opportunity to become a prison guard to avoid service and so his journey with Nelson Mandela began.”

She added: “Mr Brand’s very close and long time friendship with Nelson Mandela gave all the students and parents a fascinating and such an important insight into this incredible man.”

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Published September 24, 2021 at 7:57 am (Updated September 24, 2021 at 7:37 am)

Prison guard who befriended Nelson Mandela speaks at Warwick Academy

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