interview: Christo Brand INTERVIEWED BY JOHN CARLINFor a time, he was a warder on Robben Island when Mandela was there. He later became Mandela's warder at Pollsmoor Prison.
What went on in this wing for the prisoners on Robben Island ... what were
the rules? ... |
This is B section, where Mandela and all the leader figures of the struggle
were kept ... ANC, PAC, all different organizations, were kept here. Single
cells. They isolated them from the main community section. We opened in the
mornings at 7:00, then ... the food came, till 8:00. People started cleaning
their cells. They took their toilet buckets outside ... at the back there is
the section where they cleaned it and put it outside in the sun. Some of the
people would start doing some rounds, around on the courtyard outside, they
would walk in the mornings.
He did not accept people lying to him. Especially [if you] took something of him and lied to him. You should've told him you took it. Then he would accept it, in a way. But if you lied to him ... then he was very upset.In the afternoons ... between 12:00 and 2:00, prisoners were locked up. After 2:00 ... some prisoners would go and play tennis outside--table tennis, tennis in the courtyard. Mandela would work in his garden. He was always busy working in his garden ... He would also sometimes take part in the activities outside in the yard, playing tennis ...
Tell me about Mandela and his garden.
...[That was ] in Pollsmoor prison. We were fighting for a garden on the top roof. We got these 44-gallon drums cut in half. We brought up some soil, manure and everything ... I was also helping him ... He and Sisulu were mixing the soil with the manure and filling up the drums. There he started really producing a garden from onions, tomatoes, lettuce and different things he was planting. He was really fond of his garden ...
[At Pollsmoor], in the mornings, he woke up early, which we observed through a window ... He would first ... exercise for at least an hour, push-ups, sit-ups ... then he would go to the shower. After that, Mandela would come back, start making his bed and things, and carry on with his studies. When we opened at 7:00 ... he stood up and he greeted us in the morning ... We started dishing out the food ... after that he did his washing ... [on] certain days ... Outside were community toilets ... and Mandela would do his washing there and would hang up his washing.
He would come back and maybe drink a coffee or a tea ... after he was finished with his garden, he would study there till 12:00 [when] we locked up. Then he was moved back to the community cell ... he would, at least, sleep an hour during lunch hour, wake up at 2:00, exercise outside at the back, walk with his friends, colleagues, walk all around the courtyard, look at his garden before we locked him up. But he would also study sometimes in the afternoons. After lock up time in the evening, they would eat their food. He would start playing cards till 9:00, 10:00, and then he would maybe go through his books quickly again before he went to bed sometimes past 12:00 ... And that was his schedule on Pollsmoor prison and here at Robben Island was little bit different.
On Robben Island after 4:00 lock-up time ... we would play music from 4:00 till 6:00 ... at 6:00 we automatically played some cassettes with the news bulletins of the day which were recorded. We would play that through on the intercom ... And when I was working that office, we also taped certain programs like Radio Today and other programs which they requested. We recorded it for them. And then the next day that would be censored by ... one of the people who was very expert on censoring in the office ... Then after the news finished in the evenings, we would start playing records, that is jazz music and records which people donated for Robben Island for the recreation of the prisoners ... They had a library where they kept all the records. They would pick the records of the day ... then 9:00 we closed everything down. Prisoners were actually not allowed to study late in the evenings ...
Do you know what Mandela's taste in music was?
He was fond of ... not 100% sure, but it was jazz music. All of them were really fond of jazz music. There was a time ... I was taping this Afrikaans movie ... and that music I played through on the system. Immediately the whole display board in front of me was red lights ... They didn't want to listen to that. They told me I made a mistake. I must switch it off ...
Describe the first time that you had real communication or engagement with Mandela.
When I arrived in Robben Island in 1979, the commanding officer gave us a small speech on what type of prisoners we were working with. Then the head of the prison ... explained that we worked with the biggest criminals in history in South Africa. All the criminals ... [who] were supposed to be given the death sentence have been sent to Robben Island. I grew up in a community where I didn't know about politics at all. I came from a farm community. I never knew Mandela. I never heard the name Mandela, at that stage, but when I landed on Robben Island they didn't tell me I am going to meet Mandela. They just told me I'm going to meet the dangerous prisoners here.
When I entered B section, the first day, they took me first to the sergeant in charge, introduced me to him. Then the opposite cell from the office was a chap, Andrew Mlangeni, he came in and he said, "Oh, a new warder," and he asked my surname in Afrikaans. He had totally a different approach [than] the head of the prison told us. This man was speaking Afrikaans fluently and you couldn't see he was dangerous ...
What did the head of the prison say to you?
The head of the prison told us that we mustn't try to have unnecessary communication with the prisoners. We mustn't discuss politics or discuss any family members ... just do our job. They were very strict. If the head of the prison or somebody observed you having too long a conversation with one of the prisoners, they would immediately call you in and ask, "What is the private conversation you had with this prisoner?"
Did you break the rules?
There were occasions [when] we would break the rules, when we were alone in a section, especially at night ... I communicated with Andrew Mlangeni and he asked me what I was doing during the day. I said, "We are fishing." He said next time I am to bring him a piece of fish. And one day ... I brought him a piece ... We communicated in certain ways with them, but not for long. Especially when they exercised at the back. Sometimes, when I greeted Mandela I would ask him how's his health, how is he feeling today. And ask, "What are you studying?" and be interested in what he was doing. But there was not really much communication between us.
But from after '82, things changed. They tried to break the spirit of the ANC on Robben Island. They moved some of the leaders away from Robben Island, like Mandela, Sisulu, Mlangeni, four of them to Pollsmoor. I was also transferred to Pollsmoor prison that time. There, the communication was better. If you entered the cell, Mandela would ... make some coffee ... we must eat and drink coffee with him ... there was a more relaxed atmosphere there at Pollsmoor. Then we discussed his problems with his letters. I actually discussed his studies while we were drinking coffee ... there was not that strict relationship like on Robben Island because ...
You discussed the letters problem with Mandela ...
... some letters were being refused. When Mandela, for instance, wrote a letter we underlined [what] was not allowed to go out. We would take him the letter back. We discussed with him that these portions were being refused for political reasons. It can't go out. He must rewrite his letter. Then he must also hand the old letter in to us. We want the old letter back. It means he must rewrite the whole letter ... then he would hand it in and the letter was kept in his files. But all letters of the leader figures were referred to security branch. We made copies. We first sent originals to them, but some of them got lost on the way. So later, we made ... three copies of the letters--that is one for the security branch, one for national intelligence and one for our files. For instance ... [when the] original one was approved, we had at least one of our copies to trace back if things were being smuggled out or whatever.
There were rumors that Mandela smuggled letters out of prison. Or there was a letter being smuggled out to the outside world and I asked Mandela about it. "Did you smuggle a letter out?" He said, "Mr. Brandt, you know if I'm alone in a cell and there's an ant walking there, there is still life around me. It means there's many ways to send a letter out."
There was one occasion when after hours I opened his cell to give him a message that Mr. Kobie Coetsee wanted to see him. While I was standing there ... a long rope with something heavy on the bottom in a bag was thrown through the window from the top story ... into his cell. So he caught it, he gave it to me, he said, "Mr. Brand it must be for you." When I opened it, it was actually for him. Inside was a letter--the criminal prisoners asking for some tobacco or any foodstuff which he could give them ... then he could put it in a bag ... he could add his letters, they would take it out because ... the criminals go to court every day and it was a way for them to take a letter out.
I showed him the letter and he said, "Mr. Brand you must report this business." And so I reported it and two days or three days after that he was moved to hospital. Immediately, the prison department put louvres on the whole top part of the section of his cell...
Tell me more about the guidelines that you had on censoring letters, because obviously you had some discretion. What were you told?
The guidelines which we had to censoring letters was photos, for instance ... peace signs or all those type of signs of the freedom were not allowed. Those were kept back. If he wrote any message to an unknown person who we did not know, we would refer to security branch ... they would send us a letter back that this person is high in the ANC or they are on the run or they are looking for him. Then that part must be cut out.
He was actually, in the beginning, only allowed to correspond with A-degree, first degree family relatives. And letters were strictly censored. There was no news. Mandela and others really want news from outside. Even letters which come in. If Winnie told them about or one of his family members wrote him a letter about a certain bomb blast somewhere, that was cut out. Of certain things happening, of certain gatherings she attended, then the security branch would find out if this gathering was a legal gathering, or was a organization gathering or whatever, that must come out.
Even when he had visitors ... at the visiting box, on Robben Island, there was a piece which we closed if the prisoner ... started changing his subject and he started talking about other people which is not family, or he talked about politics, or he tried to get information in, we immediately switched off. A prisoner was wearing a telephone when he had a visit with his family member on telephone, we cut the line this side. So the other person on the other side could not see what he was [saying] now. He'd just see the mouth was moving, but he couldn't hear.
Then we would warn him, "Mr. Mandela, you can't talk about this and this issue." Then we would have an argument about this, or we would discuss that or he said, "Okay, fine, Mr. Brand," then he would carry on. If it happened two or three times we stopped the visit on the dot. Even if his visit was only for 30 minutes, and he had 10 minutes in the visit more, we stopped the visit. Next time that family member or whatever would be refused, not allowed to come again, or under certain conditions.
Did you ever stop a visit?
There were occasions [when] we stopped him, but then he immediately apologized, and he would carry on. He was quite a gentleman and he knew how to change the subject and how to carry on with his conversations.
There was one occasion when Winnie came to Robben Island ... and she brought a baby with her ... That was one of his grandchildren. When she ended up at the visiting booth, she was not allowed to bring the child in, because he wasn't allowed to see children at all, under the age of 16. So that child was kept back, held in the waiting room with somebody else ... Mandela had the visit ... after we switched off ... [he requested] if he can see the child or just touch the child ... We said, "No sorry, we can't do that." Then he really pleaded to us that he wanted to just see the child ... So Mr. du Preez, he was a Xhosa person ... listening to him in Xhosa. He said, "Christ, go and fetch the child quickly there". I go to the other side. I said to Winnie, "Mandela wants to see you again in the box for five minutes." When she went to the box, we said she must just wait ... I said to the other lady, "I want to keep the child for a while."
So I take the child through the back door, and we call Mandela and we put it in his arms, unexpected. We tell him he must keep quiet about it. We can lose our jobs here. And he said, "Oh," and he held the child, he kissed the child, there were really tears in his eyes at that moment. We took the child immediately out of his arms, took it back to the lady ... [Winnie] didn't know that he had seen the child. The lady inside didn't know where I had taken the child to. Nobody knew that Mandela had ever seen the child. Mandela kept it a secret from everybody, I think. And so we were very pleased ...
What were the criteria for deciding whether you were moved to Pollsmoor?
... on Robben Island our young warders were also isolated from the outside world. Because every fortnight you were only off for two days. You left here on the Friday afternoon, then Friday night you're at home, Saturday night at home, Sunday you must be back on Robben Island. Maybe once every three months you would get a permission to come back on the Monday mornings boat. So I was fighting all the time for a transfer, from the time I arrived on Robben Island, and every time I was turned down. In 1982, they turned down my last application for Robben Island, to have a transfer ... And then things happened. The commanding officer ... I told him I got married in 1982. I wanted a transfer and he said he would let me know. He called me in. He said to me, "Sorry, your transfer is refused." While I was on my honeymoon, I got a telephone call. I must immediately report to Robben Island. When I came back here, I was called in. They said, "You start tomorrow, working on Pollsmoor prison. You are transferred." They didn't give me a reason, [or] what I was going to do or where was I going to work.
When I arrived at Pollsmoor that morning, I reported there to the commanding officer and he said, "You start the first shift, night duty, tonight, immediately." I was pleased to be on the mainland and I accepted it. When I arrived there, they said, "You are going to work on B4 section." B4 section was the top roof section. That same night when I started, Mandela and others arrived there. We were helping them take all their boxes and things up to the section. They were so pleased to see me ... so I was with them working night duty for the first week ... and then after that I worked day shift in the section and tried to sort out all their problems. There were a lot of problems about the food ... to sort out the right procedure of the food ... things were unorganized. But they were happy there was fresh water. If they open a tap they can drink the water. Not this hard water of Robben Island. After a time, we got settled, and ... another gentleman was working with me, Mr. Smuts. Mr. Gregory turned up there and the three of us worked together.
Then I was moved to the censor office. There was nobody really dealing with their studies, and I started getting their things together. I contacted the different companies like UNISA, UTAS and all these organizations ... for the books and things, to organize them [now] that they are on the mainland now. And later, they gave us permission, Mandela must write, for instance, a letter to Jutas, applying for a certain book. If the book is approved through us, he could order the book. Sometimes it took two, three weeks before he get the book ...
On the premises on Pollsmoor, I had a small motorbike that time ... if they wanted to send a letter out to be posted So I would censor a letter, I made my three copies and immediately posted it. We did not first send it to security branch to get an answer back. We immediately posted the letters. But some of the letters were also picked up by security branch at the post office from time to time. So we made it easier. Letters were constantly coming in every day. If a letter arrived I would make my copies. Two of us, me and Mr. Gregory, would go through the letter. If we approved it, we immediately ... took it through to the section once a day, gave them their letters. Like newspapers, only in the morning I would pass the section, take the newspapers for them, ask for any complaints, because we had a special register, we wrote down complaints. If they had any complaint they must put it in writing to me. Then I would put their complaint in this register ... I would refer ... further to the head of the prison, or the commanding officer to the head office of somewhere. When the answer came back, the commanding officer or head office would give me feedback. I would write it in the same book, next to his complaint. Then I would inform him his complaint and he must just sign ... even if he did not accepted the answer, he must sign there that he got his answer back. From there he could fight his complaint further.
When he was in the cell in Pollsmoor, Mandela was under surveillance.
Describe to me the different methods that were used to monitor him.
On Pollsmoor, there was the one-way glass to the big cell ... before one officer, for instance, visited a section, he would first go to the one-way glass to see what were they doing in the cell. Sometimes, we would just watch through the glass, and observe them and go and sign the book that we had visited the section ... Through the one-way glass the warder could also observe at night what were they doing. They were playing cards ... what were their activities inside.
There were also occasions when Mandela had special requests which we put in. Then the commanding officer would send me into the section to call Mandela to one side and give him a special message. They also bugged with the microphone and with a small tape recorder, sometimes direct linked to the office. Somebody would listen to our conversation. Then I would go into the cell and call Mandela to one side and I would give him his message. Then he would maybe not accept it. He would give me ... feedback. I would report that to the officers. Then I would tell him also, "Please put it on paper for me." But immediately the officer had the answer already. They had listened to the conversation. But sometimes Mandela wanted to discuss a private thing with me and I am bugged. Then I would show him that I am bugged and ... I said, "Let us go to the garden," because I can't switch the system on me. Because I was afraid the people could also pick me out. That I have discussed certain things with him, private things, private conversations. I was only sent there to give him a message. Not have a big conversation. Or he sometimes when I entered there wanted to make me coffee I said, "No Mandela, I don't want to drink coffee now." And I would show to my body that I had something on me. And sometimes it was not possible. The officer would look through one-way glass and I'm inside. Then I would just give him a tip with the eye or something to try to ... I would just cut the thing short, and just give the message and said, "I am in a hurry." Try to get him off my back.
Why were you doing this? Why were you tipping Mandela off?
Because I wanted to be ... there was one day when they called us into the head of the prison office. A few generals from head office, I can't remember their names now, called us in. There were three of us. Mr. Smuts, Terblanche and me, the three of us were working on the section. Called us in and we pushed Mr. Smuts first. He must go and find out. They wanted to interview us about Mandela, about the section conditions. Mr. Smuts goes in, they ask him (he explained to me after the conversation.) "What do you think of Mandela?" He said, "Mandela is a politician. He is a man of politics ... fighting for his people," They all jumped up. They were very upset. They said, "You are not supposed to work on the section." They gave him a hard talk. They chased him out of the office. They called Mr. Terblanche in. I asked Smuts what was going on ... Immediately, I was geared for that questions ...
So when it my time to go in, they asked me what I thought of Mandela. I said, "Oh, I think Mandela should have been hanged that time. He just gives us a [hard] time and unnecessary complaints in this prison. I don't think he should have been [brought] here." And they all congratulated me, gave me the handshake. They said, "No, carry on with your good job. Don't fight with the prisoners. Just do your work according the rules," and I walked out. They were very fond of me. And so I moved into the office after that. And Mr. Smuts, they were very upset with him.
After that ... the security branch also visited our families outside. Asked them, "Do you know Christo? Where is he working?" Then they said, "He works somewhere in Pollsmoor," because my family didn't know I worked with Mandela ... The same thing happened on Robben Island when warders were sent there, we'd go through an ordinary security check. And then if you were not perfect enough to work in this section, they put you at the medium prison where you worked with the criminals on Robben Island. Otherwise, you worked here, if you were not political motivated outside. But on Pollsmoor, because I worked with a lot of [secret] stuff, they extra security checked me out. Very extra. Then I was allowed to work in certain things like if Mandela had a visit, I monitored the visit or recorded it. And these records ... we wrote it down word by word, and then we sent it by ... telex ... to the head office. And the same time, security branch get the copy of the tape. They would also go through it to get information ... all visits were monitored, strictly monitored ...
Also conversation between the prisoners?
That was at a later stage, when they separated him. In 1985, after his prostate operation, they moved him back to Pollsmoor prison. But in an isolation section ...where there were three cells ... he was staying in [one] cell, the other one we were using for the bathroom and store his things, and the empty one was for the warders ... then there was a big bathroom for him, and a exercise yard for himself.
Before he moved in, they put a lot of bugs into this section. There were speaker boxes, small communication boxes, which they disconnected, but ... they also put bugs in ... then they put a separate room up, operations room near the administration offices on Pollsmoor ... a small room. From there all the cables and things was linked to that room. There you could listen in to Mandela's cell. You could listen into the head of the prison office, the two deputies office and even to the place where they had their visits.
There was a special place for their visits that time. Even the head of the prison must be afraid ... what he's talking in his office ... Only when there was conversation taking place, the machine came on ... In Mandela's cell, if you put on the radio it wouldn't come on. Or the TV, it wouldn't come on. Only when two people were speaking, the system would start recording. And then they would listen during the day to the conversations.
What kind of conversations were they concerned about?
They were afraid of conversations that he would have with night shift warders ... that's why they put the bugs there. There were also occasions ... Sisulu applied ... was his birthday ... to see Mandela. Now Mandela wanted to see him in his cell. Now they don't want to take them to the visiting room, but it would be awkward two prisoners sitting in the visiting room. They'd rather bring them to his cell. Sisulu would come down there, he would eat with him and maybe only spend a hour there ... then they had the conversations on record.
There were also cases when a whole group applied--they must see Mandela over Christmas season. And then there came a mistake. The commanding officer of the Pollsmoor went on leave, the deputy commanding officer gave me instruction [that] I must take Mandela to the [other prisoners'] section. Normally, all of them come to Mandela's side ... they were staying in the female prison, [there] was not anything to monitor this situation. I was thinking maybe they don't want it to be monitored. So I take Mandela there, alone by car ... I also go on lunch home, because it was not necessary for me to record anything. So after my lunch, I go back to fetch Mandela. Then I forgot something at home, and I said to Mandela ... "I just pop in at my place quickly." So I stopped there with the car, and ... I called my wife out, and he greeted my wife and had a chat there at the car, and we moved slowly on back to Pollsmoor prison, so he had been able to meet my family.
There was also occasion when I worked day duty, because I had become a warrant officer, I must visit the prison. I must visit the sections ... visit Mandela's cell ... visit all the different sections of the political people. There was also detainees all these on Pollsmoor. So I took my son with me. He was nearly a year old ... I took him into Mandela's cell, and Mandela touched my child, and talked to him and gave him sweets and things. They were very fond of my children. Always sent a message to my wife. Mandela also wrote a small letter, which he smuggled out with a friend of mine, to my wife to [tell] my wife she must motivate me to study. I still have that small letter today. He also sent a chocolate without me knowing it. When I arrived there, she said she received a chocolate from Mandela ...
Tell me a bit more about the meeting with your wife. Did Mandela actually go into your house?
... there was one occasion ... actually coming into my house. But [he] just stood inside while he was on the phone and got back into the car ... Not really sitting down drinking coffee ... see we offered him coffee, but the time was limited ... But a later stage, after Mr. Kobie Coetsee's discussions, we more freely moved with Mandela. We got instructions from the head office we must take Mandela out for a Sunday afternoon trip somewhere. One day, we took him to Constantia, just to go to the farmer there, asked ... to walk in his garden ... the farmer was not worried about Mandela. We walked through the grapes, and Mandela picked a piece of two grapes to eat ...
One day we even take him to Pollsmoor. There's a big dam. Pollsmoor children like fishing there .. we took him near the dam and he got out of the car. We told him he can go and walk. The commanding officer and me were sitting in the car, and Mandela walked alone there on the dam, the side of the dam and talked to the children while they were fishing. I don't know what they discussed but he was just talking to them and was forming such a nice feeling to see small children enjoying themselves on the side of the dam ...
You were present, to some degree, in a meeting between Mandela and Kobie Coetsee at Kobie Coetsee's house.
... At his house ... when they started negotiating, there was a special garage with a special place. From there they monitored everything, very strict. Everything was monitored by cassette. Everything was recorded. The whole conversation. Our warders were not allowed to listen to that ... only national intelligence was dealing with those conversations. So we were also there at the house. And I remember still the way he was one day when I was there, when Mr. Kobie Coetsee asked Mandela what he going to drink. He said, "Sir, I will drink the same as you."
So Mr. Kobie Coetsee ordered....Mandela took the same drink. That was whiskey on ice. That I can still remember and when we walked out one day ... Mandela stood with his hand around Mr. Kobie Coetsee. He said to Mr. Kobie Coetsee, "You know, when we walked out here, Mr. Munro, Mr. Brand, Mr. Gregory there they will say look ... he has become white." ... and we made a joke at it, and all of us were laughing for this joke. So we got him in the car and took him back to Pollsmoor. That was one occasion...
There were special night occasions when we took him out at night ... one evening I get a telephone call. I must prepare Mandela, 10:00. We must take him out to Kobie Coetsee's house. I go to my office. Fetch a suit, because we were not allowed to keep the suit with him. Take it straight to Mandela's room. I knocked. I informed the person in charge of night duty that we go on a secret mission tonight. That he doesn't want to know about it ... So I collected the keys. We moved out with Mandela at the back door of the prison ... Nobody in the prison knew that Mandela had been taken out. We got him in a private car ... We took him alone to the visit without any guards. Only national intelligence was waiting for us.
There was one occasion when Mr. Kobie Coetsee said one day we could take him around Cape Town and we stopped at Sea Point, where we showed Mandela Robben Island and he didn't believe that was Robben Island. He got out of the car ... he just stood outside there, and we got him back in the car and we moved on around Cape Town.
Suddenly he was discovering things, maybe there had been technological advances in cars, in televisions, in radios. Do you remember him maybe expressing surprise?
... the first time we took him out with a car, was a big surprise for him ... he was standing next to the door. He tried to open this door. He was looking for a button to press. That year when he got to prison, the cars didn't have handles which lift up ... and he was standing outside and he knocked, he said, "Mr. Brand, I can't open the door." I said, "Just open the handle there, the handle is there." He said he can't find the handle. I said, "Just put your hand in and lift the thing." He didn't know how to open it.
Conversations you had with Winnie when she came to Pollsmoor, do you have any recollection of any points of tension between them?
There were points of tension between Winnie and Mandela on some occasions. Especially, he wanted her to sometimes note down certain things, and if she did not have a notebook, he would argue about it--that she must always be ready for a visit ... When he went to a visit, he would have all notes with him. He already prepared notes two days or three days in advance, exactly what to discuss in this meeting. He was ready for her and she must take certain notes down and try to do certain things for him outside. Then she would come with information from outside from him. Later years, we were not so strict on the politics. Things became easier for him to get news and information from outside. Newspapers were not censored, news was not censored, they had [ their] own radio, own TV, everything ...
Can you explain a bit more what you mean by these notebooks ...
Sometimes Mandela gave Winnie certain instructions to do for him outside. And then she said she would do it and then the next [time] she came back ... and she hadn't done it at all. Then he was cross about this incident. He said to her, "Get a notebook. Note it down when you get at home, because you have met a lot of people on your way back, you will forget it. At least, if you have the notebook, you can go back to it and then you can refresh your mind what we were discussing" ...
What was your impression of Nelson's feelings about Winnie?
I saw Nelson's feelings with Winnie. They were very close. You could see he really loved her. She was his main instrument outside to carry his name out. Everything which she did outside was done on his behalf ... And they were very ... even when he greeted her ... The way he talked to her. How he handled her. There was a incident when she was sick, and he was very worried about her sickness ... He sent a message out ... to find out how is her health. He was also worried about her driving sometimes. He was very caring for her. You could see, he was very caring for Winnie ... after all those years the love was still between them. The first occasion when they greeted each other, it seemed if they'd just married. And you could see there was big respect, like I said, for each other.
Let me ask you about another relationship ... between Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu.
They have a special relationship. Like they have special names for each other. And Mandela always respected Sisulu. He told me on one occasion, "Mr. Brand, you know, if I didn't listen to this old man, I should have never been in prison. I came from Transkei to study here, then this old man motivated me to join him and going with him with the politics. So I end up in prison now. I should have never been here. I was not interested in politics." So he makes those type of jokes.
But you can see the big respect is there, because Sisulu was also his best man in Mandela's wedding with Winnie and there was a lot of respect between Mandela and Sisulu and Kathrada ... Like Kathrada was always honored to help them and do small things and favors for them and do himself short to try to make it comfortable for them. When Sisulu wanted to talk, they would keep quiet and listen to him. Even Mandela listened to Sisulu.
There were occasions, in the sections, when there was a argument between a warder and one of them ... then you would see later Mandela call the lot in together. Sisulu would report to Mandela, then you would see the lot sit around the table and discuss this incident. And then [they] would be calm after that.
I also saw Mandela one day very cross. That was an occasion when he was isolation after '85 ... A warder on night duty asked him for his newspaper report ... Mr. Zeeman. So Mr. Zeeman read the report, when he wanted to give it back to Mandela that night, Mandela was asleep. He just put it inside the grill ... Then the person in charge at night duty came ... and he took the newspaper with him. The next morning Mandela called me. He wanted his newspaper. I must phone Mr. Zeeman ... Mr. Zeeman said [he left] it in the grill. I told Mandela. He said he wanted to see him. He was very cross. He really gave him ... it seems he wanted to slap him that day. But there was a big argument ... and I tried to calm Mandela down, because he was really upset that day. And the next day we find the newspaper coming back from the night duty, the person who took it by coincidence. He can get cross.
We are told by his friends that when he gets cross, he really does get cross.
That's true ... if there was really something disturbing him or somebody lied to him, he did not accept people lying to him. Must rather tell him you can't do it, but you mustn't lie to him. Especially [if you] took something of him and lied to him. You should've told him you took it. Then he would accept it, in a way. But if you lied to him ... then he was very upset.
... Mandela's relationship with the top commanders in the prison. Do you have any recollection of any exchanges ... anything that gave a feeling of Mandela's own authority?
Mandela sometimes demanded certain things. Like he said one day that sometimes when he had a request to a ordinary warder, he would get a good answer. He would be helped in his request, but if he put his request further to higher levels, like to the commanding officer or to the generals, they said they would refer to the minister, and then the answer came back--it's refused.
Like, for instance, he was fighting for a hot plate. In his prison, he wanted to warm up his food at night. He put in a request he wanted a hot plate. I, personally, referred to the commanding officer, and the commanding officer said no, he can't approve this. It's not approved. So I go back to Mandela ... He said no, he wanted then the commissioner ... so we referred to the commissioner, commissioner referred to the minister and they all decided no. Then it stayed quiet for quite a while, for a month or so. Then the head of the prison came back from leave. One day he visited the section and [Mandela] asked Major van Sittert ... to buy a hot plate, because his food was cold at night. Explained it nice. The head of prison said, "Mr. Brandt, go and buy the plate for the man." "But the hot plate," I said, "you must approve it." Mandela said he had it on paper already, he wrote a request. And he took it out of his drawer and he just put in a date and the head of the prison approved it ... I went and bought it immediately. Then a month later the ... commanding officer visited. And he was quite shocked. He said, "Where you get the hot plate from?" He said, "The head of the prison approve it" And they never went against the authority of the head of a prison ... After that Mr. Kathrada and the other people also get hot plates ... That was one incident.
Where were you on the day of the release?
... on the day of release I was watching it on TV ... I was very proud and very happy for his sake to see him walk outside there. I was very pleased to see the big reception he received and even I listened to the meeting he had on the Grand Parade. I was very happy about this incident. I even tried to phone Sisulu ... Kathrada that night but I didn't get him ... But after ... about a week, two weeks after that, he was phoning me, Mandela. I wasn't at home. He spoke to my children. Just to say hello and that.
Tell me about Kathrada and Mandela. Sisulu and Mandela had a very special relationship. Kathrada was very close but different. What do you remember about that?
Kathrada is very close to Mr. Mandela ... that's why he works today in the president's office. And he was always the person who organized things. When Mandela was isolated alone, Kathrada would send notes and give it to me and I would give it to Mandela. And Mandela would give me a small note to take to Kathrada, without authorities knowing about it. They would even throw it away. Kathrada would keep a secret. Mandela would keep a secret. And they would share these secrets with each other. There were occasions where they suspected certain things. I spoke openly to Kathrada, but I would tell him he must keep quiet about it. And things they knew about each other, but Kathrada ... he would give his last cent, had one cent in his pocket he would give it away to Mandela. So he was near to Mandela. He would do himself short to try to please the others. Not only with Mandela, but with everybody.
At one point, people were leaving newspaper articles in Mandela's cell with negative things about Winnie, smearing her. Do you have any recollection of that?
He always was positive. He always believed in Winnie. He tried to make it positive and said that is part of the security branch, that is part of the struggle to break her down like that. There was also a incident where Winnie was hurt in a accident, broke her arm, which he came and reported to me. He was also worried about that accident and she straightforward said that was security branch pushing her off the road on that occasion. But he was always positive. He always believed in Winnie.
During the time you were on Robben Island and also in Pollsmoor, was it clear to you that Mandela was the leader?
On Robben Island and in Pollsmoor, people outside and inside viewed him as a leader. Even if there was person from a different political background, in PAC or any other organization, they respected Mandela as a leader ... they were all comrades together on Robben Island. Like they mentioned to each other, they had differences in politics, but they respected the leaders of the section ... They respected him as a leader. And even between the warders we observed that Mandela was the leader here trying to be in control of his people inside the prison. If there was a problem inside he would send a message to try to solve the problem.
It seems to me that your relationship evolved... that he almost became your leader.
That is true. While he was in prison on Robben Island, I treated him like I treated all the other prisoners ... But when you were alone, you would maybe listen more to him, and respect him more for his views and what he discussed.
But after '85, after negotiations started ... I was thinking that he will be the leader of the people outside - not, say, my leader. But I listened to him. I would never say I agreed with him, I would never say not agreed with him. But after he came to Victor Verster and then was released, I respected him as a leader for South Africa people. And later he became my leader. And I was very proud that one of my prisoners, which I looked after, became my leader now and ... I felt very proud and happy when I was invited to his birthday party. That one of my ex-prisoners, is the president now ...
You said that you became aware around the time of the negotiations, what was it that made you sense that this was something really big that was happening?
After '85, the government respected his views, because they started negotiating with him. Mandela always told me he had tried from the '60s, and before that he wrote letters to Verwoerd, he wrote letters to Diedericks and he approached them. They never answered his letters. And now all of a sudden people are responding to him and seeing him. Even the Eminent Person Group ... And that was [when] I started believing ... he will be the leader of South Africa.
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