A Wheeler-Dealer Turned Broker for Racial Justice

A Wheeler-Dealer Turned Broker for Racial Justice

October 2014

A fascinating account of off-the-books diplomacy in the 1980s, “Plot for Peace” is that rare documentary that both augments the historical record and is paced like a thriller.

Directed by Carlos Agulló and Mandy Jacobson for the African Oral History Archive, “Plot” tells the little-known tale of Jean-Yves Ollivier, a French commodities trader who made his fortune doing business, he says, in “difficult countries” — including the internationally shunned South Africa. In 1981 he concluded that apartheid was unsustainable and began to use his contacts to help make sure its end came peacefully.

Nongovernment operatives often go where a nation’s official representatives cannot, but Mr. Ollivier, a portly man who favors cigars and suspenders, was a freelancer, geopoliticking on his own. His family had to flee Algeria when it achieved independence in 1962, and he hoped to avoid a similar mass exodus of whites when apartheid fell. In time he became an honest broker, a provider of access and a reliable courier for parties in and out of South Africa.

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