Senate House Library - University of London

The Paul and Adelaide Joseph Archive

The Library is excited to announce a recent donation to our archives from Paul and Adelaide Joseph, prominent and effective campaigners against apartheid in South Africa.

From an initial act of taking a ‘whites only’ seat on a bus, to years of representing and championing disenfranchised communities through bodies such as the African National Congress and the South African Indian Congress, the couple paid a high price for their activism.

Paul Joseph was repeatedly imprisoned, not least as one of the 156 defendants in the 1956 ‘Treason Trial,’ an attempt to simultaneously silence anti-government voices in South Africa. This punitive five-year proceeding resulted in no convictions, but had also seen the arrest of Ruth First, a journalist eventually murdered by the South African state in 1982 and whose archive is also in Senate House.

Paul was placed under continuous house arrest in 1964. Around this time Adelaide took their disabled son to East Berlin where he was able to receive hospital care through the solidarity movement. She was later advised by the political leadership to not return to South Africa because of the dangers facing Paul. He then fled the country to Botswana and joined Adelaide in the autumn of 1965 in London. By then, their two daughters had been smuggled out of South Africa to join Adelaide in London. Through the intervention of Amnesty International and the support of a Liberal MP, they were granted political asylum. The couple soon became active in their local branch of the ANC and continued to campaign and to educate for decades.

The collection includes several handwritten letters to both Paul and Adelaide penned by Nelson Mandela from his prison cell, as well as cards and correspondence from Winnie Mandela, and from fellow activists Molly Fischer and Wilton Mkwayi. Also included are some 40 photographs of campaigns and acts of civil disobedience from South Africa and London. The details of the archive are available to view in the Senate House Library catalogue

Building on existing strengths within our collections, these items have an extraordinary power and cultural significance which is clear to all who handle them, and we are proud to continue to support the effort to better understand and bear witness to the horror of Apartheid.


Slideshow image