Warder's glorious moments with Tata
As millions across the globe celebrate Nelson Mandela's 94th birthday today, Robben Island prison guard Christo Brand recalls how 22 years ago only the struggle icon's family could wish him a happy birthday.
Brand - one of the prison warders guarding Mandela during his years of imprisonment on Robben Island - today has to choose between two functions dedicated to Mandela's birthday, but said he remembers several other birthdays celebrated behind prison bars.
One that stands out for Brand is Mandela's 60th, for which he received thousands of cards. But Mandela was allowed to receive only six cards from his family on his birthday, because of prison regulations. The rest went up in smoke.
"He received lots and lots of birthday cards from universities and admirers from all over the world. There were boxes full. But he was allowed to receive only six, from his direct family," said Brand.
"We counted and listed them, recorded them in his file and burnt all the cards. Some of the cards we ended up burning in water boilers at the single quarters where we stayed. It was very sad."
The 52-year-old, who now considers Mandela his father, joined the prisons service in 1978 as an 18-year-old, to avoid compulsory military service. He ended up overseeing Mandela and other political prisoners for 12 years.
"People are now celebrating his birthday more than they did when he was inside prison; they can even spend 67 minutes, have functions, dance and sing."
And while South Africans and the world host events to honour Madiba, Brand is yet to decide on what to do to honour South Africa's most famous prisoner.
"I'm not sure about what I'm going to do because former prisoners from Namibia will be on Robben Island. There will also be something at Victor Verster prison, where former prisoners and warders will be together at Mandela's house."
Brand said his relationship with Mandela grew stronger in the '80s, when he smuggled one of his grandchildren into the prison to see him. In 1982, Brand wanted to marry and applied for a transfer to Pollsmoor prison because there were not enough houses on Robben Island. On the day he was transferred to Pollsmoor, Mandela, Water Sisulu, Raymond Mhlaba and Andrew Mlangeni were transferred there too.
"We still maintain the relationship 22 years after his release from prison. When I go to functions he always calls out for me in the crowd. He is old now but he still recognises me and acknowledges me wherever he sees me and he remembers everything from the past. Many people don't have access to him but, from time to time, they still allow me to see him.
"My message to him today is that he should continue to enjoy his time with his family and children, have them around him all the time because he missed them during all these years [in prison]. Every year when I congratulate him I tell him: 'Madiba, you still have so many years to live,' because I want him to reach 100 years at least."
Brand is now a supervisor at a shop at the Robben Island Museum and manages a kiosk on the ferry Sikhululekile, which is used to take visitors to the island.