Nelson Mandela's prison guard Christo Brand talks to Papplewick
For the last week of the school's full remote programme this term Papplewick boys and families, staff and friends were privileged to listen to a thought provoking talk from Christo Brand a South African former prison guard who became one of several warders responsible for guarding Nelson Mandela both at Robben Island and later at Pollsmoor Prison. The two men developed a great lifelong friendship based on mutual respect and trust for each other. By the means of 'Teams' he took the audience on a journey through childhood memories to Mandela's release and election as South Africa's President.
Brand related how at the age of 12 his family moved to Capetown from Stanford and his wish was to become a prison warder in order to avoid compulsory National Service. He got his wish and aged 18 after training he was transferred to the infamous Robben Island and met Nelson Mandela.
He recalled how disciplined Mandela was- always up early, studying, exercising, and creating a small garden in the prison courtyard which he tended. Mandela impressed upon Brand his philosophy that education was the most important factor in life and encouraged him to pass this message on to as many people as he could. His attitude was never to give up hope, and not to sit doing nothing - rather that education would prepare for when freedom came.
One of Brand's strongest memories was when Mandela's then wife Winnie was granted a prison visit and brought his grandchild (visitors were not allowed to take children) and Mandela begged him to let him see the baby - Brand was obliged to decline his request several times but eventually secretly managed to allow him the briefest moment in a window where he could not be seen when he held the baby and tears filled his eyes- this was their secret for over 20 years. Brand would have been tortured if he had been found out.
Not only did Nelson Mandela on his release from imprisonment keep in close contact with Brand and his family, offering his son Riann scholarship opportunities, originally in New York to study engineering but after Riann's visit to Mandela to explain his dream was to become a commercial diver his wish was granted and Mandela funded his scholarship to follow this dream. Christo Brand was offered a post in the Constitutional Assembly when Mandela was elected President - which he declined as he preferred to remain spending time with his family.
The most important message that Nelson Mandela taught Christo was that you must not just live for yourself in life - you must always try and help others.
Papplewick boys were allowed Q and A's at the end of Christo's talk and posed some very interesting and thought-provoking questions which he answered fully with interest and in detail.
Tom Bunbury, Headmaster said "For Papplewick boys and staff to listen to Mr Brand has been the greatest privilege - to be part of living history does not occur often. Nelson Mandela's strength and strong philosophy that time (under the worst enduring circumstances imaginable) can always be used for the good -and no matter what the circumstances, we must never give up hope is perhaps the most important message we can learn. Although 'lockdown' has been a minuscule example of imprisonment in comparison to Mandela's experience, we can all benefit from his attitude."