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Every now and then I find myself in the middle of an interview on London Real and I think to myself, “Is this really happening? Is this guy really sitting here in our studio?”
That happened with Christo Brand, the man who at 18 years of age was charged with guarding “the biggest criminal terrorist in the history of South Africa” on Robben Island Prison. That man was Nelson Mandela.
Their relationship is fascinating. One that started as a prisoner and warden and evolved into one of a father and son. The pivotal moment in that relationship came when Christo made a spontaneous decision to smuggle Nelson Mandela’s grandchild in to see him, risking a potential charge of treason. Mandela never spoke of the event to another human being until he was later elected President of South Africa upon his release.
Christo would soon become a trusted friend and ally, warning Mandela when he was bugged to record their conversations and later serving in his Presidential administration. Their story is one of two men looking for respect and friendship from each other in the midst of the madness of South African Apartheid.
Like so many stories I have heard about Mandela, it is those little acts of kindness that so many people remember about this man: him taking that moment to recognise someone, offer some advice, or remind them to study harder or be a better parent.
Christo still works on Robben Island and gives tours of the prison with the very former inmates he used to control, side by side to the amazement of visitors. The story of Nelson and Christo is as complicated as a nation struggling with itself and as simple as two men in search of appreciation and dignity.
I hope you enjoy their story.