Finding Common Ground
Nelson Mandela’s prison guard Christo Brand paid a visit to London recently to talk to group brought together by Nomad School of Business. Mr Brand was the son of an Afrikaans farm foreman, who worked on a small farm outside Stanford. Conscripted at 18, he had a choice of joining the army or becoming a prison warden and he chose the latter. He was assigned to a group of ANC prisoners who included Nelson Mandela. Christo was surprised to find that he was treated with respect and courtesy by Mandela rather than the hostility guards expected in a high security prison. Over the next 12 years on Robben Island and then Pollsmoor Prison, Christo and Mandela forged a friendship which lasted until Mandela’s death. Mandela’s desire to see beyond colour and creed to the person in front of him made a huge impression on Christo. His dignity, self-control and desire to learn continuously affected all those around him and turned prison in to a university that prepared everyone in it for the change that was to come in South Africa. Mandela himself, with some help from Christo, learned Afrikaans and his first words when he left prison were to be in that language, an immediate and public symbol of his desire for reconciliation and understanding. That impressive determination to understand those who hold views opposed to your own and to seek a common understanding, can inspire people living in divided societies today and it still gives Christo Brand hope for South Africa’s future. Jerry Timmins Managing Director GMT Media Ltd.