Barrtalk on Mandela

South African leader was a true inspiration, a hero for all time

Nelson Mandela

Since Nelson Mandela’s death last Thursday thousands of tributes have been written into print, in newspapers and websites across the world, attempting to summon up in words the power of one of the greatest men ever to have lived.

One standout story demonstrating Mandela’s indomitable power to provoke, influence and reconcile, centres around his relationship with Robben Island jailer Christo Brand.

Change, as the cliché goes, begins at home – or in Mandela’s case, in his prison cell. Before he could change his country and then the world he would first have to change the views of his immediate enemies, those on the other side of the iron bars, the enforcers of apartheid.

Christo Brand was an 18-year-old white Afrikaans warden when he began work at Robben Island in 1978, when the prison’s most famous inmate was aged sixty.

Such was Mandela’s charm and ability to turn enemies into allies that he had soon forged an unlikely but enduring alliance with the young Brand, now in his early fifties.

Over the years the white officer smuggled into the prison special treats for the black political prisoner. Legend has it that he once sneaked in Mandela’s young granddaughter for an unscheduled visit too.

This is a short extract from the weekly Barrtalk column. To read it in full click here


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