Baby visit sparked Mandela's friendship with guard

Wed Feb 10, 2010 3:05pm EST
 
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By Shafiek Tassiem

CAPE TOWN (Reuters Life!) - An act of kindness was the seed that blossomed into a friendship between a young prison guard and the man who would leave his jail cell to eventually become South Africa's first black president.

Former guard Christo Brand told Reuters how a visit to Robben Island prison by Nelson Mandela's second wife Winnie put him in the awkward position that would spark a friendship with his former prisoner that has lasted a lifetime.

Mandela spent 27 years in jail at the behest of South Africa's apartheid government. Most of his time behind bars was in the Alcatraz-like Robben Island prison off Cape Town's coast.

Brand, who arrived at Robben Island as an 18-year-old in 1978, said that during Winnie's 1980 visit, she told Mandela that she had brought his infant grandchild with her.

Prisoners were only allowed to see visitors through a tiny window, measuring 30 cm by 15 cm (12 inches by six inches), that was accessed by entering a small cubicle. They communicated with visitors on the other side of the window using a telephone.

Winnie Mandela had arrived on the boat to Robben Island and was not immediately ushered into the prison.

"It was winter, it was cold and because she was black and not colored (mixed race) or white, she (had to) sit outside on the boat wrapped with blankets," Brand told Reuters TV. "We never observed that she had a baby on her back."

But the baby was discovered and Winnie Mandela was not allowed to take it into the box for visitors on her side of the window. The infant was kept in the visitors' main waiting area.   Continued...

 
<p>A statue of Nelson Mandela stands outside the gates of Drakenstein Correctional Centre (formerly Victor Verster Prison), near Paarl in Western Cape province February 10, 2010. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly</p>