It was a Saturday in August of 2012 when Heidi Holland passed. The fierce and vivacious 64-year-old journalist was allegedly found hanging from a tree in her Melville home. It caused a ripple of sadness all across Zimbabwe as the journalist gave insight to then President Mugabe with her book Dinner with Mugabe which included in-depth interviews from people who intimately knew the freedom fighter turned dictator.
Who is Heidi Holland?
Born on October 4, 1947 in Johannesburg to a Swiss mother and British father, Heidi Holland was more than just an investigative journalist: she was also an author, a freelance diplomat, a property dealer, a vivacious hostess, a single mother, and a friend. She was a woman with a great mind a passion that the world has seen on more than one occasion.
One could say that Heidi’s interest in social issues and politics started with her father. While a decent man, she could not grasp the idea that her father punished labourers from their tobacco farm by pinning a baboon tail on them. As a young child, this experience left a lasting impression on her, leaving her with the question: “How could a decent man do such thing?” This question fueled most of her work and she spent most of her career answering this question.
Close friends of Heidi would know that she would open a bottle of white wine and invite guests in her home for a lovely chat over dinner, a long withstanding tradition that she used to do in her Melville home. The conversations would usually consist of just about anything, touching on a broad range of topics from politics, literature, art, and history. These topics fueled endless discussions which included dissertations of articles and books, even her own works.
Her personality was energetic and her energy was infectious. She had the gift of humor and informality, making everyone around her welcome immediately with her terms of endearment such as “dollface” or “babe.” She was curious, passionate, persistent yet kind, empathetic, and insightful.
Works and Accomplishments
Above all else, Heidi will be remembered by her best-selling book Dinner with Mugabe. It became one of the best books written about Zimbabwe and its quick fall into tyranny, published on the year 2008. She has also written countless of columns for The Star, serving as their longtime columnist until her death. Her work The Struggle: A History of the African National Congress was published on 1990, counting as her first account of the former liberation movement. Last 2012, the publication was re-released as 100 Years of Struggle Politics: Mandela’s ANC.
The inspiration behind her best-selling book Dinner with Mugabe came after an incident in 1975. One of her friends, who was a lawyer at that time, told her that he would be bringing along a friend who he could not name to dinner. It was only when he arrived did she realize that this special guest was none other than Robert Mugabe, who had just came out of prison after 11 years in jail.
During dinner, Mugabe was the perfect house guest. Heidi drove him to the train station after dinner, worried about her baby son being left alone in an empty house. The next day, he called her to give his thanks for her hospitality and asking how her son was. This incident gave new perspective on how complex Mugabe was more than the people thought. She was, in no means, swayed by his behavior, labelling him as a “tyrant” in her book. She did, though, realize that Robert Mugabe was more complicated than what his fearsome and tyrannous image presented to the public.
After this incident, she contacted all key people in Mugabe’s life and interviewed them about the tyrant, getting in touch with many people in his life, from his younger brother to the Catholic priest who took Mugabe’s confession. Years of persistence and hard work brought about the biggest fruit of her labor yet: a lengthy interview with Robert Mugabe himself, back in 2007.
This interview gave Heidi a deeper understanding on what makes Mugabe tick, specifically why he became the tyrant he is today. It was discovered in this interview that his deep, burning disdain for Britain fuels his anglophilia, leading to the downfall of Zimbabwe. Until this hatred was resolved, Zimbabwe would see nothing but suffering and misery in its land in the hands of its then president, Robert Mugabe.
Until now, the reason for her suicide has not been found. There are many mysteries surrounding her death, with the former First Lady of Zimbabwe Grace Mugabe saying that she ‘prayed to God to deal with her.’ It may be a mystery that will remain unsolved but what’s important is to remember who Heidi Holland was and the many things that she accomplished for the betterment of Zimbabwe.
After her death, she is survived by her two children Jonah and Nick, her daughter-in-law Nicky, her beloved grandson Hugo, her mother, and her siblings.