Nelson Mandela Wasn't a Household Name Until Winnie, Says Secret Agent (Exclusive)

Nelson Mandela Wasn't a Household Name Until Winnie, Says Secret Agent (Exclusive)

Jean-Yves Ollivier, the subject of a new documentary, said Winnie Mandela made her husband the face of the anti-apartheid movement

Revered South African leader Nelson Mandela wasn't the symbol of the anti-apartheid movement until his wife Winnie Mandela made him one, a former secret agent told TheWrap on Sunday.

jean-yves_ollivierJean-Yves Ollivier (pictured left), the subject of a new documentary called “Plot for Peace,” said that in 1978 Winnie Mandela changed a slogan of the African National Congress from “Death to Apartheid” to “Free Mandela,” and catapulted her imprisoned then-husband to become the face of the movement.

Also read: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom:’ Idris Elba Is the Leader You Didn't Know (Video)

“For 17 years the name of Mandela was ignored,” he told TheWrap ahead of a premiere screening at the Hamptons Film Festival. “Nobody knew about Mandela. He was in jail, like many other militants of the ANC. Then Winnie Mandela, who over 17 years gained extraordinary position in the ANC, came in 1978 with an extraordinary idea. She said, ‘Why don't we change the slogan of the ANC from a negative approach – Death to Apartheid – to a positive approach: Free Mandela?'”

He went on: “She created the slogan. He was her husband. This was her justification – she had reason to say this. He's the father of her two children. She is a woman saying, ‘Free my husband.'”

Also read: ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’ Trailer Touts Message of a Great Man (Video)

Before that, said Ollivier, Mandela was merely an activist in the ANC but far from the most important official languishing in prison.  In the 1980s, the imprisoned Mandela became the preeminent symbol of the black South African liberation movement. Artists, musicians and activists around the world adopted Mandela's name and image in demanding that the white-led regime change its racist policies.

Mandela was released in 1990 after 27 years of captivity and went on to be elected the president of the country. He is often called “the father of the nation.”

In failing health, Mandela is not among the leaders interviewed in the film but many others including Winnie Mandela, former South African foreign secretary Roelof “Pik” Botha and other white South African and black ANC leaders give interviews.

Ollivier – known at the time only as “Mr. Jacques” –  played a secret role in ending apartheid, as the film reveals for the first time. An Algerian-bornjean-yves-ollivier-nelson-mandela-photo-645x400 cereal trader, he knew Winnie Mandela well during his years secretly negotiating between South Africa, Angola, France, the United States and the African National Congress.

Michael LeDeen, a former adviser on the National Security Council during the Reagan administration, was part of those negotiations and attended the screening and a panel discussion afterward on Sunday. “The thing that's unique about Jean-Yves is that he figured out it was possible for a single person to change the world — despite big organizations, armies and he found a way to do it,” LeDeen told TheWrap.

Winnie and Nelson Mandela divorced after his release.

  • Mark

    It's ok to call a regime racist as long as the leaders are white. Right now in South Africa you have members of parliament that are openly advocating white genocide yet nobody dare calls them racist because criticism of black people is racist itself. The old South Africa led by whites created a half decent and functional nation- of course it wasn't perfect. Now black led South Africa is slowly turning into the next Zimbabwe as whites are actively hunted and murdered. But go ahead Hollywood keep the anti white guilt trip slavery movies coming because there is nothing this current anti boy anti white feminist run cathedral needs more than to be reminded that people 150 years ago people owned slaves and that somehow that makes current white people responsible.

    • Said in Los Angeles

      I understand your flow, yet since White South Africans make an estimated 6 times the annual salary of the average Black South African and owns more pristine land then the Black South African and within the Afrikaans citizenry there are elements that want a separate country within South Africa for Afrikaans, I think its safe to say that, a few killings of White South Afrikaans withstanding, the White South Africans haven't lost much since the fall of Apartheid..

    • TreadingDarkHalls

      oh long suffering white people of the world, you have had such a difficult life.