Nightly News   |  December 06, 2013

Mandela’s unlikely friendship with prison guard

Over the years in prison in a cold stone cubicle on Robben Island, Nelson Mandela developed a unique friendship with one of his guards. NBC’s Tom Brokaw reports.

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>>> nelson mandela was sentenced to life after famously saying he was willing to die for his principles. he served 27 years, 18 of them at the notorious robin island prison. a lot of that time was hard labor , like breaking rocks in the hot sun. tom brokaw traveled to meet with some of those who came to know mandela then including a man who became a most unlikely friend.

>>> robben island , once the most notorious prison in south africa , now is a national shrine. the hard, hard place where nelson mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison. tourists leave the comfort of cape town for the choppy ride to this reminder of cruelty and courage. they are guided by ex- political prisoners .

>> june 1986 i was sentenced for ten years.

>> reporter: through the cold corridors.

>> this is number 7. the cell of mr. nelson mandela .

>> reporter: into the tiny cells. this is where mandela spent almost two decades. a cold stone cubicle. no plumbing. a thin mat for sleeping. hard labor in the prison rock quarry. ahmed muhammed cusrata was a fellow prisoner and now a member of parliament, one of mandela 's closest friends.

>> we were sentenced to life in pris prison. we knew for political prisoners , life meant life.

>> reporter: he says mandela never asked for special treatment. in fact, he refused it.

>> he could have been exempted from work. he refused. 1977 , 13 years after we were in prison he was offered release. he refused.

>> reporter: over the years in prison mandela developed a unique friendship with one of his guards, cristo brand.

>> i don't know at all who mandela was when i started at robben island .

>> reporter: a warm friendship developed and one day he broke all the rules for madiba as mandela was call bid his friends. mandela 's wife winnie was visiting with the first child. but no children were allowed.

>> she told her husband she brought his grandchild. immediately he looked at me and asked sit possible to see the child from a distance. the answer was no because it is monitored.

>> reporter: he decided to risk it and takes the baby to mandela out of sight of the monitors.

>> he came to the baby and he was emotional, got tears in his eyes, kissed the baby twice. from that moment we become in a way friends.

>> reporter: in that tiny cell brand, the young prison guard , had a life changing experience. he helped mandela communicate with them as well as with his own people.

>> to bring your enemy closer to you speak the tongue of the people. i never thought he would be the president of the country. i was proud of him.

>> reporter: they are now joined in grief. the mourning of the passing of their friend. but they are also joined in the triumph of of the long journeyful