Rest in Peace, Jane Katjavivi

1 September 1952 – 9 August 2022

Many friends of Namibia are mourning the passing of Jane Katjavivi, solidarity activist, publisher and writer, who made a huge contribution to independent Namibia. Jane was a pillar of support for her husband Peter Katjavivi and the Katjavivi extended family as well as her many dear friends. She was travelling home from Heathrow with Peter when she passed away suddenly on the flight.

Tributes to her have been pouring in from so many Namibians and others worldwide: politicians, writers, publishers and friends. According to President HE Hage Geingob “…she became one of us in advancing our fight for freedom and independence. After independence in 1990, as an accomplished author and passionate editor, Jane was instrumental in building Namibian literature and assisted many with editing manuscripts and documents.”

Jane Coles was born in Leeds, studied English Literature at the University of Sussex and studied for an MA in African Politics at the University of Birmingham. She joined the World University Service (UK) in 1975 as a Scholarship Officer.

She met Peter Katjavivi in 1975 and went on to work with him as Information Officer for SWAPO in London (1976-78), also attending meetings, pickets and demos of the Namibia Support Committee. Many UK-based former campaigners for Namibian independence will remember her fondly as a personal friend and fellow activist.

After a stint as editorial assistant at AFRICA Magazine, Jane moved in 1980 with Peter to Oxford, where she joined a book publisher and he completed a doctorate. They married in 1981 and their son Perivi was born in 1984, while their daughter Isabel was born in 1988 in the USA, where Peter had taken up a fellowship at Yale University. The family moved fully to Namibia in March 1990, just a few weeks before Independence.

Once in Windhoek, Jane set up publishing house New Namibia Books (NNB). “The worst desert in Namibia is the book desert,” she told friends and family. And she did not accept what she was told – that “Namibians don’t read”.

Over 10 years NNB published 63 books encompassing Namibian history, anthologies, fiction, poetry, life stories, democracy and gender. There were children’s books and science textbooks too. She opened a bookshop, later named Onganda y’Omambo, specializing in books about Namibia and Africa. She also set up a Namibian imprint, Tigereye Publishing, and was founding publisher of the University of Namibia Press from 2011 to 2016, establishing it as a leading academic publisher. She was also a proactive leader in publishing organisations including the Association of Namibian Publishers and the African Publishers Network.

Her memoir Undisciplined Heart was published by Modjaji Books in 2010. It charts her life, her sustaining close friendships, her health struggles which meant she was fitted with a heart pacemaker, her long road to recovery, and finding a renewed understanding of the Christian faith and spirituality. Writer Margie Orford commented: “Jane Katjavivi’s frank and intimate memoir of love and politics, of survival and finding way to make a home, shows that history is also what heals when it is filtered through a loving heart and an open mind.”

An important part of Jane’s life was bringing up the family and supporting relatives. She was uprooted several times, moving home from the UK to the USA, Namibia, Brussels and Berlin as she supported Peter, whose varied posts after independence included those of founding Vice-Chancellor of the University of Namibia, Namibian ambassador to the EU and then Germany – which meant long periods away from Namibia for Jane – and most recently Speaker of the National Assembly.

Jane’s memorial service was held on Thursday18 August at Parliament Gardens and later St George’s Cathedral, and her burial service is on Saturday 20 August at St George’s Cathedral (from 09h00) and Pioneerspark Cemetery.

Friends of Namibia sends sincere condolences to Hon. Peter Katjavivi, Perivi, Isabel and all the family and friends as they mourn Jane.
Many tribute articles and obituaries are already published, including by friend Werner Hillebrecht in The Namibian, 14 August, from which much of this information is drawn:–with-a-great-legacy

Undisciplined Heart is available from the African Books Collective at
Obituary by Tom Minney, with additional thanks to Jo Morris and Marion Wallace.

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