Nelson Mandela Lecture – Doing Life with Mandela: My Prisoner, My Friend

Head of Boarding Mr Hepburn organised a very special Nelson Mandela lecture – Doing life with Mandela: My Prisoner, My Friend – on Teams this Saturday. 

It was special because our Years 7 and 8 heard from Christo Brand, Mandela’s prison guard on Robben Island.   It’s where Brand and Mandela struck up a close friendship. A friendship that was to continue long after Mandela was released from prison.

What did Year 7 and 8 learn at the Nelson Mandela lecture?

Brand’s early years were spent on a small farm called “Goedvertrouw” (Dutch for “Good trust”), outside Stanford.  Educated from five at a school on a nearby farm, life was not easy for Brand and his family. They had no electricity and lived a humble and frugal existence.

His father developed pneumonia when he was twelve, which forced the family to leave the farm. They then moved to his uncle’s house in the more affluent Parow Valley.

Rather than join the army for National Service – compulsory for every white male – Brand decided to join the prison service.  After a year in Kroonstad, he was sent to work on Robben Island in 1978 at the age of 18. That was when he first came across Nelson Mandela, who at that time was 60 years old and serving a life sentence.

This was where they formed a relationship that was to become so much more.  A close friendship built on trust and mutual respect for one another.

In 1982, Mandela was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison on the mainland in Cape Town.  On 13th March that year, Brand married Estelle.  From 1982 until 1988, Brand was in charge of the Mandela group and had access to him on a daily basis. 

Turning full circle

After Mandela’s release from prison in 1990, Brand became an administrative and logistics manager in the Constitutional Assembly.  Once the Constitution was adopted, Ahmed Kathrada arranged for Brand to work again on Robben Island, but as a supervisor in the island shop. 

The wheel had turned full circle and Brand was back where he started, although this time on an island freed of prisoners. The island had become a place of healing and reconciliation: an endless fascination to international tourists, historians, political activists and those interested in South Africa’s turbulent past.

Christo Brand’s Right Hand Man

Brand resigned from Robben Island in 2018 to focus on telling his story on a full-time basis. He approached Andrew Russell to become his Business Manager and handle all his speaking engagements. Since then he has been invited to talk in many countries around the world.  These include the USA, Brazil, the UK, France, Germany and Belgium.

During COVID, Russell and Brand have established a remote learning and information programme for schools and universities and interested groups all over the world.  

Lectures at Elstree

During the course of a term, pupils attend several age appropriate lectures, delivered by visiting speakers from varied walks of life. Usually lectures take place in the McMullen Hall two or three times a term. With current restrictions, lectures now take place in Year Group bubbles and guest speakers are beamed in via Teams.