Nelson Mandela’s Former Prison Guard Spoke at Skeptics-Chapel Collaboration

The Society of Skeptics welcomed Christo Brand to a virtual Skeptics/Chapel collaboration on Wednesday, March 10, at 2:15 p.m. Mr. Brand served as Nelson Mandela’s prison guard for more than a decade, eventually becoming the former South African president’s confidant and close friend. At Skeptics, he shared how this unlikely relationship grew through his and Mr. Mandela’s mutual respect and trust for each other. 

Mr. Brand spent his early years on his family’s small farm—called Goedvertrouw, a Dutch word meaning “good trust”—in a multiethnic farming community outside of Stanford, South Africa. When he turned 18, he chose to enter the prison service rather than do two years of military service, which was compulsory for every white male. After completing his training in Kroonstad, he received his first assignment in 1978 at the age of 19: warder to the country’s most infamous inmate, Mr. Mandela, at the maximum-security facility on Robben Island.

Over the next 12 years, on Robben Island and later at Pollsmoor Prison, Mr. Brand guarded Mr. Mandela. Through their daily interactions, he learned many life lessons from Mr. Mandela, and he will share these “Lessons from a Warder and his Prisoner” at Skeptics to help audience members understand how it was possible for a young, white Afrikaans-speaking jail warder to befriend a 60-year-old, black Xhosa-speaking prisoner serving a life sentence. 

The men remained friends after Mr. Mandela’s 1990 release from prison until his death in 2013, and Mr. Brand wrote about their bond in Doing Life with Mandela—My Prisoner, My Friend, a memoir co-authored by Barbara Jones and published in 2014. In its foreword, the late anti-apartheid activist and South African politician Ahmed Kathrada calls the book “a valuable addition to the writings about imprisonment in the apartheid era,” noting that it is the most honest account he ever read by a warden relating his interaction with Mr. Mandela. “My lasting impression of Christo Brand is that he’s a very good human being,” Mr. Kathrada writes. “He’s not a politician; he’s just a very caring man who took chances for other people which could have brought him trouble.”

Read more about Mr. Brand here.

History of Skeptics
The Society of Skeptics was established as a forum for students and faculty to discuss and debate important global issues; it has grown to become one of the premier high school lecture series in the United States. Each week, speakers from the political, social, scientific, economic and literary arenas share their unique perspectives with students, who are encouraged to engage with presenters, asking questions and debating points of view.

The program, which is funded in part by The Class of 1968 Society of Skeptics Endowment Fund, was an outgrowth of the Blair International Society, begun in 1937. Forty years later, former history department chair Elliott Trommald, PhD, Hon. ’65, established the modern Skeptics program as a regular forum for student discussion and debate; history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, took over in the mid-1980s and molded the program into a weekly lecture series, one that has since continued without interruption. Under the tutelage of Dr. Miller and his successor, history department chair Jason Beck, Skeptics has featured a wide variety of speakers who are engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please click here.

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Throughout history, art has played a vital role in driving and fostering social change. From paintings to music, artists have created works with important messages, and many are committed to making art that changes the way we perceive the world. At Blair Academy, students are encouraged to explore their artistic interests to better understand themselves and the community around them.

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