(page 29) - Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory
Page 29 of Nelson Mandela's Warders
Description: Page 29 of Nelson Mandela's Warders
Transcript: ‘That was a rule from the censor’s office and we used it to punish them.’ Sometimes letters simply disappeared into the maws of the security branch. Sometimes the warders burnt the letters. This usually happened if the prisoner’s letter file became too bulky. For example, almost all the correspondence Mandela received for his birthday in 1979 – ‘boxes full’ - Brand fed into a boiler that heated the water in the single quarters. As he puts it: ‘I burnt lots of letters in my life on Robben Island.’ However, in his more lenient moments Brand would call a prisoner into the censor office and give him thirty minutes to read letters that fell outside the quota. Or he would give the prisoner a précis of the letter before destroying it.
Brand also supervised visits, and here he was equally strict. Prisoner and visitor sat in cubicles on opposite sides of two thick panes of glass that were about the size of a person’s head. A metal panel was inserted between the glass panes at the end of the session. During the visit, prisoner and visitor talked to one another through a phone linkage with Brand listening in. He could switch off the system the moment he heard something he didn’t like. And he did a couple of times with Mandela, warning him to stick to subjects related to family matters. Mandela never argued. Visits were for thirty minutes and at the end of that time Brand would switch off the phone and slide the metal panel into place. ‘I would give them a warning that there was five minutes left and then klaar,’ says Brand. ‘Sometimes they didn’t even have time to say goodbye. Nobody ever argued. Sometimes Mandela would take his alarm clock into the visiting box so he could watch the time himself. He knew we were governed by the rules.’
Although Brand strenuously observed the rules, even confiscating sweets that Priscilla Jana, one of Mandela’s legal representatives, had given him during a consultation, he did bend in 1980. Madikizela-Mandela arrived for a visit having smuggled in a grandchild – then a baby – under the blankets
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