Doing Life with Mandela: My Prisoner, My Friend

by Christo Brand with Barbara Jones, edited by Andrew Russell

Afrikaner farm boy Christo Brand joined the South African prison service at age 17 to avoid having to serve in the military, as all white males were required to do under the apartheid regime. He found himself guarding men he was told were the country’s most notorious terrorists: Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada – names that would later become legendary worldwide for moral and political heroism. The lifelong friendship Brand forged with Mandela is the subject of his memoir, first published in 2014. The book’s London launch was presided over by Mandela’s daughter Zindzi, at her late father’s behest. Mandela passed away in December 2013 at age 95.

Now updated and republished by Blue Ear Books, with a special section of freshly commissioned writings by 16 people who knew both men well – including fellow political prisoners, family members, European and North American activists and educators, and a member of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission – Doing Life with Mandela: My Prisoner, My Friend is more timely than ever, showing as it does the difference that personal respect and friendship can make in a racially divided society and under an oppressive regime.

“Brand had the bigness of heart to see beyond Mandela ‘the terrorist’, ‘the communist’, the convicted prisoner. Seeing that Mandela treated him with kindness and respect, he responded in kind. Brand may be seen as a milestone in Mandela’s political mission: his first white convert.”

John Carlin, author of Playing the Enemy (made into the film Invictus) and Knowing Mandela

Christo Brand’s memoir Doing Life with Mandela: My Prisoner, My Friend, edited by Andrew Russell, is available for US$19.95 plus $3.95 US shipping. For bulk or international orders, contact Blue Ear Books. To purchase individual copies, use this link or this QR code:

“I used to think how wonderful it was for two people to enjoy this kind of relationship, when one had been a prisoner and the other a warder. I once posed that question to my uncle, Ahmed Kathrada, and he replied, ‘In life one has to forgive and move away from bitterness and hatred, and only then will we be able to live in peace and harmony with each other.’”

– from the Foreword by Zohra Kathrada Areington

“Too often the study of history focuses on the stories of the great figures alone and fails to look at the equally important role played by common individuals in shaping history. There has always been a mass of people who blindly follow the party holding power or act with indifference to preserve their own safety when evil occurs, and a very small number of people who courageously follow their values, fight for the rights of the oppressed, and change the world for the better. This is where the power and importance of Christo’s story comes in. His story provides a very personal touch to South Africa and Nelson Mandela. Sure, it is about Mandela and being a witness to some of the most important events in South Africa’s history. But it is truly Christo’s story, one that shows how a young man working for the apartheid state was not afraid to break the rules, show humanity, and do the right thing to make the lives of his prisoners more bearable while standing up against the system. It provides a lesson of the importance of the ordinary individual in actively challenging the system, doing the honourable thing, and influencing necessary change.”

– Ian Middleton, history teacher and rugby coach, Ashbury College, Ottawa