Mandela: My Prisoner, My Friend

Mandela: My Prisoner, My Friend

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Nelson Mandela as he has never been seen before. His life’s sacrifices recounted in vivid detail by the prison guard with whom he became lifelong friends.

Raised in a multi-ethnic farming community, Afrikaner Christo Brand was confused and saddened when he first confronted the realities of South African apartheid. Conscripted into the military at 18, Brand chose to serve as a prison guard rather than embrace the brutality and danger inherent in the work of soldiers and policemen. Assigned to the maximum security facility on remote Robben Island, Brand was given charge of the country''s most infamous inmate: Nelson Mandela.

For 12 years Brand watched Mandela scrub floors, empty his toilet bucket, grieve over the deaths of family and friends yet remain as strong as any freedom fighter in history. Won over by Madiba''s charm and authentic concern for the well-being of others, Brand became Mandela''s confidante and at times accomplice. Celebrating triumphs and suffering through many setbacks, the two men formed an unlikely bond, one that would endure until Mandela''s death.

Told with candor and reverence, Mandela: My Prisoner, My Friend is both a meditation on friendship and a moving testament to the dedication, determination and—most of all—humanity exuded by one of the world''s great leaders.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781486255108
Publisher: Bolinda Audio
Publication date: 11/18/2014
Edition description: Unabridged
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 5.50(h) x 0.62(d)

About the Author

CHRISTO BRAND is the son of a farm foreman from rural South Africa. He served as Nelson Mandela's prison guard for 12 years, primarily on Robben Island. Today, he still works on Robben Island, now a UNESCO World Heritage site. As manager of the site's retail outlets, Christo has been known to reminisce to visitors about his time guarding Mandela and even to give the occasional tour. He lives in Cape Town with his wife, Estelle, and son, Heindrick. His eldest son, Riaan, passed away in 2005.

BARBARA JONES is the Africa Correspondent for the Mail on Sunday newspaper. She has covered Nelson Mandela since she first met him in 2000. Originally from England, she learned journalism the old fashioned way working her way from weekly to evening newspapers before joining the Mail on Sunday. She has two sons and lives in Cape Town, South Africa.

Read an Excerpt

Mandela: My Prisoner, My Friend

By Christo Brand, Barbara Jones

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2014 Christo Brand and Barbara Jones
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-5840-4


I grew up on a small farm just outside Stanford, a quaint village set in a mountain valley, two hours' drive from Cape Town, the big city. A river meandered through it and the Atlantic Ocean was nearby. Our farm was called Goedvertrouw, which means 'good trust' in Dutch. We had our own little school on a nearby farm and that's where I was sent at five years old.

Come rain or shine, every morning I had to walk five miles to the nearest bus stop. But often one of the farmworkers, an African man we called Chocolate, would walk with me to the bus stop or sit me on the front of his bicycle and give me a lift if his bike was in good repair. We never knew Chocolate's real name. He was just always there. He had no relatives and his whole life was spent working on the farm or helping my mother in the house.

Our family was always hard up with little money and no luxuries. But we had a rich home life: we may not have had a lot but what we had was good. There were roast potatoes with butternut, marrow and pumpkin with breadcrumb stuffing and fresh peas. I hardly knew the taste of meat but it didn't matter.

After supper, we would take the candles outside to the stoep – we had no electricity – and my father would take out his violin and Chocolate his guitar and the music and merriment would ring out into the dark night.

The days started early and sometimes went on until midnight, especially when the winter rains caused havoc with the crops or the fences. I would sometimes go out in the dark with my father and Chocolate, holding the torch for them, while they fixed fences in the driving rain. In the Boland area of the Western Cape, there would be icy cold winters where the washing froze on the line and your hands went numb and blue. By contrast, the summers were stiflingly hot and you could hardly breathe.

My upbringing was that of a typical Christian Afrikaner. I had been baptised into the Dutch Reformed Church and we went to services every Sunday, with a nap in the afternoon. During daylight hours in the school holidays and at weekends, I would be out all day roaming the farm with my friends, the children of the African and mixed-race workers.

During school hours, however, my fellow students were exclusively white. Although I can honestly say I hardly noticed the division at the time, in term-time, our tiny two-classroom school was for the white children of farmers and their managers and foremen. The coloured and African children went to a different school at the bottom of the hill.

Before and after school, though, all of us would meet at the bus stop together and often light a fire right there on the dusty ground if it was cold and we had long to wait for the bus. But we never talked about why there was segregation at our schools. We were small kids – innocents, I suppose – and it was just a fact of life.

The only time I played with white children at home was when my mother's sisters and their families visited us from Cape Town at weekends. My cousin and I would go out early in the morning and Chocolate would accompany us while we hunted rabbits and pigeons.

Then, one day, Chocolate completely disappeared. To this day I do not know what happened but he was probably arrested for being somewhere without a pass. The pass laws for blacks and coloured people were notorious. They were contemptuously known as 'dompas', the stupid pass, and they ruled the lives of non-whites.

My father tried to find out what happened to Chocolate but nothing came of it. We just accepted it as part of an African's life in those days. Men like him would have come from a large, poor family, living in a shack with no water or electricity or sanitation. He may have lost his parents to malnutrition or tuberculosis, and gone wandering to look for work. He had no belongings and no education, and his birth would not even have been registered so he had no ID papers. He would have considered himself fortunate to find any sort of work or home, having been taken in by my parents.

Chocolate would be classified as an unskilled labourer despite his ability to fix everything on the farm and to teach a child like me how to fish and hunt, and mend fencing and tend animals. He would have no employment record and would have fallen through the system like so many Africans who had no value to the apartheid state.

He was obliged to carry a 'dompas' with him wherever he went and would be required to produce it for random police stop-and-search squads to prove that he was allowed to be wherever they had encountered him. But Chocolate had no 'dompas': officially he didn't even exist.

If he was stopped by police outside of our farm, especially at night-time, he would find himself in a police cell where his life was literally of no interest to them. Many hundreds of thousands of black South Africans 'disappeared' during those years. It was not practical, and not safe, to make too many enquiries. Poor Chocolate was just another casualty of apartheid. We missed him but we were living in a police state and had limited rights ourselves. My father would have asked at our local police station, but would not have been surprised at their lack of interest. To them he would have been just another itinerant African with no real name.

The apartheid system in South Africa was one of the most cruel examples of legitimised racism anywhere in the world. Inspired by the notion of white supremacy brought to South Africa by its first 'conquerors', the Dutch, who were then closely followed by the British, the Afrikaans-speaking National Party set up these laws of segregation when it came to power in 1948.

For decades, black South Africans had been slaves, or servants, or low-paid workers serving the white interlopers' best interests. They had already been disenfranchised by the time the apartheid laws were introduced, and the Native Land Act of 1913, brought in by the British, had deprived them of land ownership. Now they were put at the mercy of further crippling restrictions, with dozens of separate Acts of Parliament being passed to rule their lives and ensure their wretchedness.

As well as the much-hated pass laws, the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act of 1953 introduced the notorious 'whites-only' official notices that went up in every public place, including airports and even cemeteries. Black people were forbidden to use the same beaches, buses, park benches, hospitals, schools or public toilets as white people. The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act and the Immorality Act prevented the formation of sexual relationships between different races. And, perhaps cruellest of all, the Bantu Education Act meant that black people were schooled only as preparation for a lifetime as labourers, thus ensuring white dominance for future generations. As Hendrik Verwoerd, Minister of Native Affairs and the architect of apartheid, once said: 'There is no place for the Bantu [black person] in the European [white] community above the level of certain forms of labour ... What is the use of teaching a Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice?'

Non-whites could not live in a city unless they were employed there and were ordered to carry passes everywhere they went. Millions were forcibly removed from their homes under the Group Areas Act which designated specific, poor, areas for blacks and coloured people.

This inequality did not go unprotested, of course, but the state's response was predictably brutal. By 1960, uprisings against the pass laws reached their peak when police opened fire on demonstrators in the township of Sharpeville, shooting dead 69 black people – many in the back – in what became known as the Sharpeville Massacre. As a result, the government declared the first State of Emergency in South Africa, during which time all civil liberties were suspended and the police could detain suspects at will without any appeal to the courts. All public meetings containing three or more people were banned.

A decade later, in 1970, the situation became still worse for the black population when the Bantu Homeland Citizen Act was passed. This law was designed to strip black South Africans' citizenship from them, forcing them to become citizens of ten so-called 'homelands' – areas of unproductive, unwanted land many miles from the white-dominated cities. This resulted in more than three million people being forcibly resettled.

I know now that the outside world was raging against these terrible strictures, but as a boy growing up in the Western Cape countryside in a non-politicised family I had no knowledge of it whatsoever. Chocolate was a constant presence in my daily life and I knew many other African and mixed-race men who were the heads of their families and whose homes I was always welcome to enter, just as they were welcome to enter ours. I realise now how rare that was and I value it.

It would have been impossible for city residents to have any one-to-one knowledge of a man like Chocolate, or for their children to be playing with black children. It was only possible for me because my parents lived in a house tied to their work on the farm, the same as the black and coloured workers.

I had no awareness of any of this at the time, of course. I simply remember the many childhood friendships I made without any hint of racial tension on either side. When my grandfather bought me a bicycle, for example, the African children would steady it for me and run after me to help me learn how to pedal it and make sure I didn't fall. We shared a lot of things, playing near the river and catching fish. Sometimes we would wrestle and have play fights, after which we would all swim naked in the river and be friends again.

One day, a young coloured boy came to live with us and my parents gave him his own room in the attic. His name was Pikky. Somehow he got left behind on the farm when some seasonal fruit-pickers left, so my mother brought him up.

Pikky used to help my mother in the kitchen and also worked on the land. When I came home from school, I would plant onions or potatoes with him. He was with my family until he was about 15 and then, just like Chocolate, he disappeared and we never saw him again. It was very painful for me because he had been like the brother I never had. We'd shared so much together.

Despite my grief for this loss, I did not ask questions and my parents did not speak of it. Nothing was ever explained to me about the circumstances of people like Chocolate or Pikky. But they had been treated like family when they were with us, and it is only now when I think back that I see how unusual that was.

In fact, looking back, my parents were exceptionally kind to all the people around us, whether they were black, white or coloured. On Fridays, payday, my father would take all the workers to the town 20 miles away to do their shopping. On the way, he would give lifts to workers walking from other farms until our pick-up truck was packed full.

Despite his generosity, my father could be very strict and I learned the hard way that he would not tolerate me disrespecting older people, of any colour. One day, he heard me shouting at an elderly black worker on the farm when we were trying to get the cows into a kraal. I was using bad language and my father was furious. He took a sjambok – a whip – to me and all the time he was telling me that older people deserved our respect. The colour of their skin was no matter: it could not come off and anyway they were all human beings just like us.

Our farmworkers reciprocated my parents' respect and were kind and caring towards me. One of my earliest memories is of wandering off at the age of about three, and getting lost while playing in a canal. I was always out playing somewhere or at the river, fishing with the other children. All our workers turned out to help my parents find me.

However, these settled times did not last. In 1972, when I was just 12, all those nights out in the cold and rain took their toll on my father and he developed pneumonia. He was really sick and couldn't work in the fields. The farm owner, a white man, decided to evict us. So, at one stroke, we lost both our home and our livelihood. We were experiencing the mercilessness that millions of black people also suffered.

We were forced to move to the city and we were stuck there for a whole year, living in a room in the backyard of my uncle's small family home in Parow Valley, a white middle-class suburb of Cape Town. My father, mother and I lived in one cramped room. I slept on a mattress on the floor and I yearned for the green, open spaces of the veld, and the farm fields.

Once my father recovered, he started working on the railways, and a year later we moved to Epping Garden Village, another suburb of Cape Town, which is now called Ruyterwaght. It had been designated for white railway workers. We owned our own house for the first time and today I have inherited it and extended it and live there with my own family.

It was a different sort of life in Ruyterwaght. My father was at home every night now instead of mending fences or rounding up sheep on the farm. But I was missing my friends and all our playtime on the farm. I had no one to go fishing with and I had no black friends any more. I was at an all-white school and I was noticing that public toilets in the city and on the railway station were marked differently for whites and blacks. I still didn't fully understand apartheid but I was starting to see small differences that I'd not perceived before.

I was soon completing my schooling in the city and gained quite a reputation as the fastest sprinter in my year. I took up target-shooting too. But our family's financial deprivation continued, and I decided to try to make some pocket money for myself in my spare time.

By the age of 15, I was working at the weekends with a builder who paid me about 8 rand a day – about the equivalent of £5 – to help build his house. I mixed cement, carried loads of bricks and helped him install electricity, working long hours, from six in the morning till six at night. During the week, after finishing my homework, I went door-to-door selling pots and pans and mixing bowls. One of our neighbours worked at a stainless steel factory and he offered me 25 per cent of all the sales I could make on the products he would give me. I took samples around to show people, along with a catalogue with prices, and they could see that the factory prices were cheaper than those in the shops.

I did quite well and soon I could afford to buy a secondhand Suzuki 50cc motorbike to make it easier for me to do deliveries. I was still only 16 then. By 17, I had bought an old Ford Cortina, which needed its engine overhauled and gearbox replaced.

My social life revolved around going to braais – barbecues – where we cooked meat and fish caught locally. I was becoming a fully-fledged Afrikaner boy immersed in the white community around me.

In 1976, when I was 16, there was a national scare among the white population about the possibility of a violent black uprising. During two terrible days in the Soweto township, in the heart of Johannesburg, police had shot dead more than 100 black students who had been protesting at the country's racist education system. Many children died and the violence had escalated around the township.

Everyone was worried the uprising would spread. All of us older students were called out to guard our school at night because the teachers believed black people were going to burn it down. We took turns to patrol the school yard alongside the principal and teachers, who had firearms with them at the ready. Despite our state of paranoia, the feared mob didn't arrive.

After school, I had to face conscription, national service. From 1967, all white South African males between the ages of 17 and 65 years old had to become members of the South African Defence Force (SADF) or the South African Police (SAP). At first, conscription lasted only nine months, but, by 1977, due to increased fighting in Namibia and Angola, it had increased to two years. Afterwards, you would have to attend a camp up on the borders for a month each year for eight years.

I had friends who had died in military camps on the borders of South Africa, and I had been to their funerals. I didn't want to die like them, and I didn't want to join the police force with its reputation for brutality.


Excerpted from Mandela: My Prisoner, My Friend by Christo Brand, Barbara Jones. Copyright © 2014 Christo Brand and Barbara Jones. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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