In 1965 a group of academics from UNISA, including Michael Macnamara, Ridley Beeton and Peter Horn, perceived a need for a magazine that promoted experimental poetry that a number of staff members were actively writing at the time. Horn took the helm by convincing various academic departments, encompassing all the languages, Philosophy, and Fine Art to get involved with the proposed publication. Alongside experimental poetry, theory and critical commentary about poetry were proposed as the core content for the journal. Beeton abandoned the idea as too ambitious and thought that the university would never support it. Macnamara and Horn would continue on, accompanied by Walter Saunders and Phil du Plessis, and published a journal independently, sans the support of the institution. This predominantly Pretoria-based group (Horn was in Empangeni, Zululand) understood that the magazine had to be vastly different from established poetry journals of the time, such as New Coin.
After various discussions about the way forward for the proposed publication, it was decided that Ophir would be the moniker that the publication would adopt and that it needed to be produced by a select group of independent writers. Published in Pretoria, the name recalls a port mentioned in the Bible, made popular as the place where King Solomon received his gold, silver, and other sources of his vast wealth. The title is also thought to be inspired by John Masefield’s poem, Cargoes, wherein the end of the first line mentions Ophir, critically charged with colonial undertones.
Horn constructed a hand press in his garage, laboriously inking and printing all 250 copies of the 16-page first issue, which broke before the cover could be printed. The editors had to buy a commercial press to print the cover of the inaugural Ophir. The theme for the first issue was the sea, hence the turquoise cover, which in hindsight looks much like an old government-issue textbook. Perhaps this approach was an attempt at satire, maybe irony, or simply due to financial restrictions. The magazine was comprised mostly of the groups own work and poetry that attracted their interest, notably texts from black poets, and subversive, anti-authoritarian Afrikaans writers. As it was published during the Apartheid era, with quasi-Marxist, anti-authoritarian underpinnings, Ophir’s bilingualism was a deliberate protective measure, a way to disguise dissident writers from the powers that be.