South African journalist and author Heidi Holland is best remembered for her book “Dinner With Mugabe,” which chronicled with great depth and intimacy the how freedom fighter Robert Mugabe rose from the bottom to become the leader that Zimbabwe needed, and how he wafted and waned into near-thuggery in the end. The book gained critical acclaim worldwide, not only because it was the only one that was courageous enough to dip into the subject, but also because it contained first-hand experiences of such a challenging time.
While the book held a serious and compelling tone, Heidi, as she preferred to be called by her first name, was far from boring. In fact, those close to her said with fondness that she absolutely hated being bored and doing nothing. As the owner and operator of a guesthouse in a Melville suburb, her days and nights were far from uneventful. Because her home was the refuge of choice of many journalists and political figures, you can imagine the level of passionate discourses that came and went into every corner of the space.
The author had penned many similar books and articles throughout her career, including for international publications such as The Guardian, The Economist, and The New York Times. Her writing career began as a journalist for a local magazine called “Illustrated Life Rhodesia,” and her first book was published in 1990, titled “The Struggle: A History of the African National Congress.” “Dinner With Mugabe” can be said to be a book that’s over 30 years in the making.
Woman of Substance
The successful publication of “Dinner with Mugabe,” which contained an interview with Robert Mugabe himself, plus interviews with 14 people who were close to the president, served as a huge win for the Zimbabweans, who finally had a voice in the world. Mugabe was a highly touchy subject at the time and for her to come up with such a poignant approach to a sensitive issue was highly lauded. It gave those from the outside looking in an opportunity to understand what is happening on the ground, as well as develop a deeper sense of empathy over the people’s plight.
During the eulogy at her funeral in 2012, journalist Charlene Smith said in a written piece: “I’m glad you are having the service at the Central Methodist Church because, although I suspect it will be chaotic, it will be just what she would want. Among Africans, Zimbabweans, among those we have forgotten, but she hasn’t.”
Heidi’s Legacy Lived Through Her Sons
Heidi Holland died in August 2012 in an apparent suicide. Her gardener reportedly found her dead at the garden of her guesthouse. While people were devastated with the news, those close to her and her sons seemed to have accepted that their good friend and mother would leave in such fashion. The acclaimed journalist is said to have had the habit of leaving a party without saying goodbye and called this her “trademark.”
“She left in the very certain knowledge that the party would continue without her, and it always did, and now it must, as well,” said her younger son, Jonathan Hull, who is currently a senior correspondent for Al Jazeera. He also noted that while his mother was always the center of attention and that she always had the spotlight shone on her, she has always served as a mother figure to everyone, not just for him and his older brother Niko Patrikios. “She shared the love so completely and effortlessly… that she barely saved any of the love for herself,” added Jonathan.
Heidi is survived by two sons, Niko and Jonathan, from two marriages. The first one was to Tony Hull, which ended in divorce after five years of being together, while the second was to physician George Patrikios, who died two years later following a terrible injury from a vehicle accident.