Today was our last day in Cape Town; and it was packed with incredibly useful experiences and information. First, we had a discussion at the hotel with Christo Brand, former prison warden and later friend of Nelson Mandela. Then, we drove into town to view the District 6 museum. After that we spoke with a college student at a university in Cape Town to discuss their views on the current social and political state of South Africa.
Before we dive into the interview with Christo Brand and what was gained out of that, I think it’s first important to understand what happened in District 6 because it’s history is essential to understanding the type of laws that Mandela and other members of the ANC Youth League were fighting against. District 6 has had an incredibly dark history with forceful removals of colored and mixed race out of the neighborhoods. The South African government required the people to move for the whites to settle in the neighborhood. Our tour guide throughout the District 6 was someone who himself was a victim of the forced removals by the government. He told us about the segregation laws; in which many public spaces, including benches, were reserved to “Europeans only” (later due to nationality disputes became labeled as “whites only”). Our tour guide expressed the incredible anger he had describing to his children as to why they had to not use whites only toilets when they had to go pee. It was eye opening to hear these stories because they were very similar to the segregation laws during the Civil Rights Movements in the United States. These laws of inequality among races were exactly the kind of laws that figures such as Nelson Mandela protested throughout the Anti-apartheid movement. In fact, when Nelson Mandela was later president of South Africa, he came to visit the District 6 museum and his tour guide was the same one we had today.
Our meeting today with Christo Brand was extremely informative, especially towards my question of research. Christo Brand is a white, native South African who grew out on a farm in a very rural area. Brand wanted to be an electrician, and ,many of the whites who grew up on a farm at the time would serve in South Africa’s military as a way of reaching their future career goals. Brand said he had a friend while growing up who wanted to become a doctor; and he used the military as a way to eventually achieve this dream. Sadly, however, his friend would die in combat. This discouraged him from serving in the military and instead found his path to his career through service as a prison warden on Robben Island.
Brand first met Nelson Mandela when he was 19 years old on Robben Island. Mandela was 60. Brand had no major interests in the Anti-apartheid movement at the time, so as such, he had never heard of Nelson Mandela before meeting him. Christo noticed that many of the prisoners on Robben Island were elderly, and also were highly invested in education. This was because Nelson Mandela believed that educating himself was more important than trying to escape prison, even if he was to die while incarcerated. This idea spread to other political prisoners who were closely tied to Mandela on Robben Island. Mandela had a deeply rooted believe that it was education that would bring about change in the country. He wasn’t necessarily wrong either.
Before being imprisoned on Robben Island, Nelson Mandela actually had a career as a lawyer, and he worked closely with his colleague Oliver Tambo. While the South African government arrested Nelson Mandela in 1962 and later incarcerated him, Oliver Tambo managed to flee the country and use his talents to gather international support for the Anti-apartheid movement in other countries. This was key to the movement, because the South African media was controlled by the government, and any reference to any of the leaders of the opposing movements were forbidden. In fact, as Brand told us during our discussion, most of the letters he received that were for Nelson Mandela were from people outside of South Africa. Those who had written letters to Mandela who were from South Africa were arrested by the government.
Christo Brand informed us that 1985 was the year that shifted the direction of the Anti-apartheid movement. In fact, that year, South Africa declared a state of emergency because citizens began to revolt against the state of government. The government finally reconsidered it’s position on the banishment of specific political parties, including the ANC Youth League. People began to negotiate with figures such as Nelson Mandela for the first time. But Nelson Mandela refused to leave prison unless all political prisoners were free.
This was especially true in 1984, the year before South Africa’s state of emergency. According to Brand, Nelson Mandela was offered freedom this year, in which he declined. Brand was shocked to hear this decision, and called Mandela crazy for declining to leave to see his family for the first time in over 20 years. But Mandela had a reason behind his decision. Mandela refused to leave prison until all other prisoners were free as well for the sake of the Anti-apartheid movement.
Eventually, in 1990, all the political prisoners were freed, and a new Parliament political system was implemented in South African government. Four years after his incarceration, Nelson Mandela would become president of South Africa. He had Christo Brand help work on the new constitution with him. This was a shocker due to the fact that Brand was a former warden of Nelson Mandela. But there was one key reason as to why this was the case. Brand referenced a time when he risked his life to allow Nelson Mandela and chance to see his children during his incarceration. This was strictly against the rules, however Brand let his humanity rise above the rules and regulations and defied the system in place on Robben Island. Nelson Mandela never forgot that, and despite him and Brand being on opposite ends of the spectrum, he saw Brand for his humanity like the humanity Brand saw within him.
Nelson Mandela would not only become friends with Brand, but he also gave Brand employment opportunities and gave his son a scholarship to study in New York. When Brand’s son died in a car accident in 2005, Nelson Mandela was the first to offer him his condolences.
This all goes back as to why Mandela was so effective in his movement through his incarceration. He had people like Oliver Tambo to help him gain international support. He believed in education as a guiding principle and was able to see through dividing lines between him and people who would in many circumstances be labeled as his “enemy.” These qualities all played into his effectiveness as a leader and as an international icon who helped to inspire people not only in South Africa but all over the world.
Although many people had to struggle through the apartheid era in South Africa, today we had the honor to meet with a young man, Awonke Gozo, who was born free in the present day era of his country. Although the ANC Youth League has had power in Parliament since Nelson Mandela took office in 1994, it was interesting to learn that recently, new parties have branched off of the ANC Youth League including the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and Black First Land First (BLF). These parties have branched off because they are unsatisfied with the current state of the ANC Youth League. Many people who lived through apartheid argue that the youth who were born free don’t truly appreciate the history of what they had to go through. Members of the younger generation argue that though conditions have improved, it is going to take a new party in power to change many of the problems which still exist in South Africa today. These problems include lack of housing, high unemployment rates, low minimum wage (R20 per hour), and more.
The reason I found this striking was that before coming to South Africa, I didn’t realize there was such a disagreement with the current political system. In many ways it is similar to the United States in which many of the youth have disagreement with the current two party system. I think that when looking into the legacy of Mandela, he didn’t seem like someone who was opposed to change, even in terms of his political party. At the time, Mandela and the ANC Youth League were truly revolutionary, and I feel as if Mandela would want South Africa to continue to thrive in whatever way possible. The youth certainly have a different approach, and I have no answer as to what is the right thing to do for the country moving forward. All I know is that Mandela was a once in a lifetime type of leader, and the struggle he had to endure to bring about the change he did was truly incredible. His views on how to change his society according to Christo Brand included things such as educating citizens and succeeding for yourself while then bringing about the success in others. These were the principles that Mandela and Brand believed in, and regardless of which direction the born free youth take the country in the future, as long as those same principles are in mind, it seems as if Mandela’s legacy will live on for years to come.