Christo Brand used to be a prison guard at Robben Island and Pollsmoor prisons. He recently wrote about his time in the prisons service, including when he was a guard for Nelson Mandela.
Christo Brand was just 19 years old when he first met Nelson Mandela after being tasked with guarding one of the “most dangerous criminals” in South Africa.

Over the past 20 years he worked as a tour guide at the Robben Island Museum. This week he retired - a bittersweet moment for him.

“It was very sad to leave because the people I worked with are also political prisoners who were on the island. Some of them I guarded but I also feel like I must leave it to the younger people now who can come and experience the significance of this island,” said Brand.

The former prison warder is shifting his focus to working with tourists, speaking at schools and corporate functions, and teaching people about Mandela’s legacy.

He is concerned about the criticism levelled at the former president.

“I think the youth are uninformed about Mandela. It’s very easy to criticise him and say he was a sell-out but they weren’t there and didn’t see the sacrifices made,” said Brand.

The 58-year-old will also use his book, Doing Life with Mandela, My Prisoner, My Friend written with Barbara Jones and published in 2014 as a way of educating people about Mandela.

Brand became a prison warder in 1978 to avoid conscription. He was stationed on Robben Island, where he guarded Mandela and his fellow Rivonia trialists until a transfer in 1982 saw Brand moved to Pollsmoor Prison along with Ahmed Kathrada, Walter Sisulu, Andrew Mlangeni and Mandela.

“When I got there (Robben Island) I was shocked to see how old people were treated and for me I had to treat them with respect. Pollsmoor is where we really got to talk and when we started to take him (Mandela) out so that he could begin negotiations,” he said.

“One of my memories is when I smuggled in the baby for Mandela and that’s really when we became friends.”

After guarding Mandela for 12 years in total at different prisons, Brand went to work at Parliament before Kathrada organised for his return to the island after the opening of the Museum.

Weekend Argus