'˜I feel privileged to be part of a moment in history'

To most people he is known as a local councillor who works hard to ensure the very best for his community.

Friday, 29th April 2016, 4:39 pm
Updated Friday, 29th April 2016, 5:44 pm
Brendan with partner Yvonne Copeland

But, as he prepares to stand down after 12 years on Havant Borough Council, Brendan Gibb-Gray has spoken of his exciting life before local politics.

As a former detective chief superintendant in the Met, the 73-year-old dealt with terrorism and murder on the streets of the capital for 35 years.

It was good preparation for his next role, working in the EU’s anti-corruption unit in South Africa during the historic election which saw Nelson Mandela surge to power.

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Brendan, who lives in Chequers Quay, Emsworth, says: ‘I was working in anti-corruption within the South African Police Service, investigating allegations of murder, rape and torture by officers.

‘I was part of an EU group of senior detectives, including Dutch officers who could speak Afrikaans, German and French officers.’

In 1994, South Africa held its first general election in which all citizens, of all colours, could vote. It was Brendan’s job to ensure that people were free to vote as they chose.

Millions queued in lines over a three-day voting period that changed history.

Nelson Mandela, who had spent 27 years a political prisoner on Robin Island, was voted in as president.

‘Africans have a huge capacity for politics’, says Brendan.

‘They see politics and freedom as the same thing. That’s why I can’t understand why people here have such little interest in it.

‘I met Nelson Mandela in a hotel in Bloemfontein, although I didn’t actually get to speak to him.

‘He was not all that well. The poor old boy’s sight was bad and he was exhausted.

‘Nelson Mandela was an iconic world leader. If we could have more world leaders like him we would be lucky.

‘The great thing about him was that he unified people. He had an ability to get people to agree with him, even if they didn’t agree with each other.

‘He never really compromised. He had his principles but he was a man who could do business with the right or the left of the political spectrum.

‘I do feel privileged to have been part of that moment in history.’

Brendan, who has a son and a daughter, described the joy as it became clear to South Africans that a new dawn had begun in a country which had spent so long under apartheid.

He says: ‘The election passed off with relatively little violence, by South African standards. Because there was hope.

‘The problems we faced were from the police. There were veiled threats from serving officers.

‘I never received any threats from local residents or activists.

‘I felt perfectly safe walking around Cape Town and Kimberley.

‘But you had to watch your backs when it came to the police.’

After South Africa Brendan worked in Botswana and Sierra Leone.

His late wife Margaret would go to and from Africa over the eight years he spent there.

She sadly died in 2010, after 45 years of marriage. ‘It was very difficult’, he says.

‘It was a short, sharp burst of cancer and, looking back, it feels like she was here one moment and the next thing I knew, she was gone.

‘Cancer is wicked. It’s not the dying, it’s the method of dying.

‘To be with someone in the last few months of their life and see them slowly deteriorating, in considerable distress, is really quite a salutary lesson to a human.’

After Africa he returned to a much slower pace of life in the UK and joined the Emsworth Business Association (EBA).

‘I thought they were good for Emsworth and good for business.

‘I did two or three years before I decided to become a councillor.

‘I really wanted to help Emsworth go forward. That was the kernel of it.

‘I’m instinctively Conservative but I haven’t always toed the party line. I believe in doing what’s right.

‘There are occasions when things have not always been done right, they’ve been done because they are expedient.

‘I believe in those circumstances one should stick to one’s principles in voting, and say what you believe is right.’

Despite being involved in high-profile campaigns over the years, Brendan says the most satisfying thing about his job was helping ’ordinary’ people.

‘For example, some people have difficulty reading, either through lack of education or poor sight’, he says.

‘I would write letters for them and reply to correspondence for them. Helping people has been the thing that I’ve enjoyed most.

‘And working with them to get things achieved.’

Retirement is viewed with a mixture of anticipation and nervousness but, with his new partner Yvonne Copeland, 70, he intends to enjoy it by going to the theatre and travelling.

He says: ‘I’m a great believer in taking each day as it comes.’

To see a video of Brendan go to portsmouth.co.uk/video.