Nobel Peace Prize winner and president of South Africa from 1994-1999, Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years. He and other members of the African National Congress were deemed South Africa’s most dangerous criminals as they rebelled against Apartheid.
Christo Brand is an Afrikaner, who was raised in a multi-ethnic community, unaware of the realities of Apartheid. In 1978, when he turned 18, he chose to be a prison guard rather than a soldier or policeman. The brutality and danger, and the racism inherent in the law, were confusing to his tolerant sensibility.
In his new memoir, Mandela: My Prisoner, My Friend, Brand relates the story of being warden to Nelson Mandela for 12 years. His assignment to the Robben Island maximum-security prison would change the youthful Brand, who was scared, naïve, and eager to establish his warden status.
Mandela the inmate was a leader from the beginning, cultivating understanding during conflict as he cultivated a garden that improved the quality of life in the confines of imprisonment and abuse. He connected with Brand and earned his respect on their very first encounter.
Brand’s unique view of Mandela focuses on more than the warden/prisoner relationship. The empathy of both men transcends race, color, power structure and age.
In these divisive times, Nelson Mandela’s vision and leadership for peace, and Christo Brand’s tolerance as a warden, is a message for all to aspire to equal justice, peace and understanding.
Sarah's review first appeared on KMUW, 89.1. Listen HERE.