Humbling power of Mandela

Much has been said and written about Nelson Mandela. The good outweighs the bad. Even the few who previously held little respect for Madiba have been known to quickly change their unsavoury opinions of him after being bowled over by his "aura".

Much has been said and written about Nelson Mandela. The good outweighs the bad. Even the few who previously held little respect for Madiba have been known to quickly change their unsavoury opinions of him after being bowled over by his "aura".

None of the biographies included in Mandela: The Authorised Portrait touched me more than Christo Brand's, a former prison warder on Robben Island. He wrote: "You know, I see Mandela as a father. After 1986 when my own father passed away, I became very close to him . Today I can say that Mandela is still the same person and treats me with the same respect as the first day I met him in prison.

"I would like to thank him for his friendship and his helpfulness and his kindness, for always giving me a chance and listening to me. And I want to thank him for having such hope for me and such respect for me.

"And I feel very sorry that I didn't always have the same respect for him. I would also like to thank him for everything he has done for the country. I didn't believe when I saw him in prison that things would change like that."

Few mortals can inspire such change in other people. It must have been humbling for Madiba to hear something so profound being said by someone who had braced himself to meet one of the "biggest criminals in the history of South Africa" when he first arrived on Robben Island in 1979.

It could have been easy for Brand to perpetuate the same perceptions that his family had of one of the most feared black men in the country, but it was easier to give in to his warmth and charm.

"You know, when I started working on Robben Island my uncle visited me, and he asked if I'd seen Mandela. And my father asked, 'Who is Mandela?' And then he said he remembered something about the trial, but if the man has been so long in prison they should release him, because he is worth nothing outside now. And my uncle said, 'No, they should have hanged him. They were lucky they survived the death sentence.'"

The book contains beautiful and compelling entries from some of Madiba's most powerful and famous friends such as Sir Richard Branson, Kofi Annan, Tony Blair, Bono, Zelda le Grange and Bill Clinton.

It is a comprehensive, beautiful and compelling summary of one of the most turbulent and exciting times of our history.

The portrait has been re-released to coincide with Madiba's birthday, who turns 90 on Friday. Savour every morsel that is delivered in this biography.

X