Gwen Lister, Namibia, founded The Namibian in 1985 during apartheid colonialism in the country. The newspaper and staff were consistently targeted by right-wing elements and security forces because of the perception that the newspaper supported the liberation movement. Lister was jailed twice, in 1984 under the Official Secrets Act, and in June 1988, when she was detained without trial and denied access to a lawyer. Authorities jailed her the second time in an attempt to force her to reveal the source of a secret document she had published, which proposed sweeping new powers for the police. She was four months pregnant at the time. Attacks on the newspaper and harassment of its staff culminated in an arson attack that destroyed the offices of The Namibian in October 1988.
After independence in 1990, the newspaper was again targeted by right-wing elements after a front-page report about a possible coup attempt against the new government. The editorial offices were damaged in a phosphorous grenade firebombing. In these and other bombings, The Namibian never missed an edition.
The role of The Namibian in pre-independence Namibia has been honored by a number of international awards. In 2000, Lister was named one of 50 World Press Freedom Heroes of the last half century by the International Press Institute. In 1992, she was awarded a Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award and the Press Freedom Award of the Media Institute of South Africa.
In October 2011, after 26 years at the helm of The Namibian Lister handed over the reins to Tangeni Amupadhi. At the same time she formalized the non-profit Namibia Media Trust which owns the newpaper, and appointed other Trustees. Lister is Executive Director of The Free Press of Namibia (Pty) Ltd and Chairs the Trust – in terms of which the profits of The Namibian are ploughed back into promotion of free and independent press, excellence and training in journalism in the wider media community.
Lister was a 1996 Nieman fellow at Harvard.