As prison guard to Nelson Mandela, Christo Brand knows what it is like to spend time with one of history’s great heroic figures. Travel on our Spectacular South Africa luxury guided tour and have the opportunity to meet with him and hear all about if for yourself.
We had the pleasure to talk with Christo, exclusively for Luxury Gold guests. We asked him his standout memories of Nelson Mandela, what he has learned from the experience, as well as his thoughts on South Africa as a destination.
Your journey to Robben Island is one of the highlights of our 9-Day Spectacular South Africa luxury guided tour. Spend the morning at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Robben Island, and take an insightful tour with an ex political prisoner as your guide. You will then return to the mainland for an exclusive lunch with Christo Brand, at the Amy Foundation. Here you will hear fascinating stories about South Africa’s first Black President, a heroic figure who stood for freedom and justice throughout the late 20th century.
Meet Christo Brand
In 1978, aged just 19 years old, Christo arrived at Robben Island where Nelson Mandela (then aged 60) was being held, having just completed his training as a prison guard. There he was one of several guards responsible for guarding Nelson Mandela and they developed a close friendship over the course of many years.
In 1982 Christo was transferred along with Nelson Mandela to Pollsmoor Prison on the mainland. He was responsible for guarding Nelson for a further six years, and their relationship of trust and mutual respect continued. Nelson Mandela was sentenced in 1964 to life imprisonment for sabotage. He was finally released on 11 February 1990, aged 72. On his release, Mandela organised a job for Christo as an administrative and logistics manager in the Constitutional Assembly and their relationship continued.
With so many years spent alongside such a great man, we started by asking Christo to sum up what Luxury Gold guests can expect to take away from this lunch. “What guests can expect is to understand how a Black man and a white man could become friends [in those times],” he affectionately tells us. “How we became friends, how we met each other and how we changed each other’s lives.”
For inspiration: South Africa destination guide
How would you describe Nelson Mandela to guests?
“When describing Nelson Mandela to people I always say he was a down to earth, humble person,” Christo remembers fondly. “He was a person who would go out of his way to make others happy around him and give his last away to people to make them smile. He was also a person who loved to educate.
“I met him as a prison guard, and I met him out of prison, and he was exactly the same. He hadn’t changed. When he retired, he was a still a humble person. He would even stand up for me to greet me with that respect. He treated all people with respect.”
What is your most standout memory of your time together?
“There are a lot of standout moments, but one of the biggest was when I handed a baby to him.” Christo recalls of one occasion when Nelson’s wife Winnie came to Robben Island and she brought a baby with her. It was one of his grandchildren and they managed to enable Nelson to see the baby. “He was not allowed to see children,” Christo explains “When he took the baby from me in that moment, he got so emotional he had tears in his eyes. I could not believe someone could be so hungry for a child like that. That emotion, that is something I will never forget.”
Was there a particular moment when you realized he was special?
“Nelson Mandela was always a peacemaker,” Christo tells us. “I could see it when there was maybe an argument on the section between two prisoners or a prisoner and a guard. Mandela was the one who walked in and could interact and bring peace and harmony between the two. Immediately when he stared talking, he could calm people down in the heat of the moment, that was something very special.”
How has this experience shaped you as a person?
“Nelson Mandela was a person who reached out for people. He always believed that people are more important than yourself, and the more you help people the more you will be blessed with good life.” Christo replies of his learnings as prison guard to Nelson Mandela. “He taught me that even if you don’t see it today or you don’t see it tomorrow, in life good things will come to your side and you won’t know why, but it will be that person. We should focus on respecting each other as human beings on this planet, by reaching out for people. And that has shaped my life to make a better world for people.”
What is so special about South Africa?
“South Africa is a beautiful country and is famous for its diversity. From our coastal areas, the dramatic mountains through to the famous Kruger National Park and our many other parks there is something for everyone,” Christo explains. “Also, its people are known for their friendliness and hospitality and our food and wine are exceptional, especially our wine.
“The country has a lot to offer, there is a lot of history in South Africa, a history of change. Through Nelson Mandela’s’ story we can tell that change. He walked out of prison with a changed mindset. He followed the footsteps of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Ghandi in that he was that type of person also.”
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What is the one thing in South Africa everyone should see?
“Table Mountain. If you are in Cape Town don’t miss out the mountain,” Christo enthuses. This flat-topped mountain, at 1,085 meters high, is Cape Town’s most iconic and photographed landmark “This is the only place on the world from which you can enjoy such a spectacular view, including two World Heritage Sites. Table Mountain National Park being one itself and you can also see Robben Island.”
Spectacular South Africa
If you would love to meet Christo Brand, former prison guard to Nelson Mandela then take a look at our Spectacular South Africa luxury guided tour. A showcase of beautiful wilderness, eclectic cultures, warm hospitality and rich heritage, this tour will take you from cosmopolitan Cape Town into the heart of Big Five territory. Discover Robben Island, Table Mountain, the finest wineries and view iconic wildlife on a luxury safari.vAnd, why not extend your journey aboard the luxurious Rovos Rail for a timeless journey to the mighty Victoria Falls?