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Records of Operation Namibia

Archive reference: Cwl ON

A Commonweal Archive which tells the story of an international non-violent direct action campaign of the 1970s.

Operation Namibia

Operation Namibia (ON) was initiated in 1975 by the Philadelphia Namibia Action Group (PNAG), to draw attention to South Africa’s illegal control of Namibia. its major project was “Books for a free Namibia”: to send a sailing ship with an international crew to Namibia. The boat would deliver useful books as practical aid, and thereby defy South African authority in the region.

Support groups formed worldwide and a London office set up to to raise funds and organise the project. The Golden Harvest left Portsmouth in October 1976 with over 4000 books on board, sailing via Portugal, Tenerife, and Dakar. The “peace ship” Fri set out later from Singapore with books donated by supporters in the Far East. Those working on the project in England included Roger Moody, Sue King, Glyn Carter, and Lewis Peake. Golden Harvest crew included Roy Purvis, Maggie Wellings, Pete Ellis, Ian Harbour, Elise Gaeddaert, Hans Paret, Barry Considine, Jude Smith, and Kris Wood.

Golden Harvest encountered many problems on her journey, compounded by lack of funds. In particular, she foundered off the coast of Gambia in March 1977, requiring lengthy repairs, and the crew were arrested in Nigeria and in Togo. The project ended with Golden Harvest having reached Gabon, because of mounting financial difficulties, major rifts among the crew, and the death of Elise Gaeddert from cerebral malaria. Fri reached Namibia but was refused access to Walvis Bay, and returned to Britain. At a crisis meeting in September 1979, supporters decided to end the project, to give the books to the United Nations for shipment to Namibians in refugee camps, and to sell Golden Harvest.

The Archive

This material was donated to Commonweal in 1983. It consists of files from the London office of Operation Namibia, including newsletters, press cuttings, press releases, publicity, meeting minutes and photographs of the voyages. There is extensive correspondence between ON and PNAG and with the crews of the two ships.

The Archive was catalogued as part of the PaxCat Project, with support from the National Cataloguing Grants Programme for Archives.

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