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My driver was one of Nelson Mandela’s prison guards


In the Western Cape area, my driver is a terrifically fascinating person that I’ll call Henrik. In the late 1980s, Henrik was part of an elite military unit that saw action in South Africa’s Border War, an outgrowth of the Angolan Civil War that had been raging for more than a decade.

At the time, the US and Soviet Union supported opposing sides; this was a common tactic during the Cold War when both superpowers would arm, train, support, and unofficially fight alongside rival factions of foreign ‘proxy wars’. Such wars took place from Nicaragua to Israel, and southern Africa was just another front.

When the war ended, Henrik’s unit was disbanded and the military was downsizing. But as he had not yet completed his full enlistment, the government decided to transfer him to the prison service to finish out his obligation.

Henrik’s first assignment brought him face to face with none other than Nelson Mandela who had been serving hard time as a political prisoner since 1962.


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