family would probably have remained had it not been for his mother’s asthma. Proximity to the coast worsened her condition until her doctor recommended that she move to the dry central Karoo. The family duly relocated to the small town of Hanover, where Swart, at the age of six, started attending school. His father was employed on a farm but financially the family was struggling. Months went by while Swart senior tried to find work in a butchery. Eventually an opportunity arose in Beaufort West, some two hundred kilometres away, and again the family moved. But the restlessness continued and a few years later they relocated to Touws River. When Jack Swart was twelve years old, the family moved again, this time to the small dorp of Philadelphia, near Malmesbury. The following year Swart, the middle childF of seven children, was sent to boarding school in Malmesbury where he completed three years at high school, leaving, at the age of seventeen to join the prison services. After his training at Kroonstad he was stationed at Robben Island.
For his first two years on the island, Swart had no contact with the prisoners. He stood guard, and lived within the island’s hermetic world. A taciturn man, he will not be drawn to comment on his living conditions or his job. In fact Swart is a difficult man to interview. He resists elaboration and his comments are terse, devoid of any emotion. Even when he talks about his time with Mandela at Victor Verster
, his tone of voice remains flat, almost dull. As far as he is concerned he was doing a job and he did it.
After his initial years on the Island Swart was eventually assigned to the nightshift at the cell block housing Nelson Mandela
and the Rivonians. He would lock them up at four in the afternoon and patrol the corridor that ran down the middle of the cell block. ‘They never chatted to you, and you weren’t allowed to speak to them,’ he recalls. To Swart these men were of little interest.