nelson & winnie mandela*A former secret agent told TheWrap on Sunday that Nelson Mandela didn’t become the symbol of the anti-apartheid movement until his wife, Winnie Mandela, made him one.

According to Jean-Yves Ollivier, it was Winnie who changed a slogan of the African National Congress from “Death to Apartheid” to “Free Mandela” which made her husband the face of the movement.

“For 17 years the name of Mandela was ignored,” Ollivier 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?’”

“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.’”

Ollivier said that Mandela was just an activist in the ANC and not the important official in prison. During the 1980s the imprisoned Mandela became the symbol of the black South African liberation movement and many artists, musicians and activists around the world adopted Mandela’s name and image. After 27 years of imprisonment, Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and was elected the president of the country. He is often called “the father of the nation.”

Winnie and Nelson Mandela divorced after his release.