Journalists all over the world face countless dangers to accomplish everything in their to-do list—all in the name of delivering complete and useful information for their audience. The risk alone— albeit, intangible for most— can leave a member of the media crippled with terror, which is why the job is not suited for the faint of heart.
As one covering sensitive issues like Robert Mugabe’s life and rise to power, Heidi Holland had to face several terrifying thoughts. Fears for her personal safety was one of them.
In fact, she once confessed, in a press release for Penguin Books-South Africa featured in All Africa, that there were times she would experience anxiety at some point during some of her interviews.
There were also moments when she believed she was in danger, especially when she was in Zimbabwe.
At the time, Heidi revealed the formidable situation members of the media are in when doing their job in the country. She also revealed that people aren’t permitted to inquire from people in command who are wary about both the questions as well as the answers.
Heidi Holland: A Journey to ‘Dinner with Mugabe’
Born to a British father and Swiss mother in Johannesburg, South Africa, Heidi Holland first came to Zimbabwe in the early 1950s. At the time, the nation was still called “Southern Rhodesia,” a colony to Britain.
After finishing high school, Heidi immediately took up a job as a secretary and ended up being a journalist for the magazine Illustrated Life Rhodesia. From there, she was honed to become the humanitarian writer she is known today.
There were times when she had encounters with the government. She defied censorship and ended up being one of the people who can shed light about the infamous Zimbabwean leader.
You see, Mugabe hadn’t always been tyrant many people see him now.
During an interview for the Penguin Books press release, she revealed that she took on the responsibility of writing “Dinner with Mugabe” because she had once encountered him years before he became known as the villain of the story.
With her noble cause, she braved the hostile environment in Zimbabwe and gathered more information about the ill-reputed leader’s life.
Out of all the interviews she conducted, Heidi considered meeting Mugabe’s brother, Donato, as the riskiest so far. She was downright frightened for her life as both he and his wife were growing weary of her, especially every time her phone rang. It turns out, the cockerel crowing tone made them agitated.
Fortunately, she had some help. She got in touch with Father Fidelis Mukonori who gladly assisted her in gaining contact with Robert Mugabe. At the time, she said that she felt relatively safer.
Even so, the lengthy five-week wait for a final interview with the Zimbabwean leader had been traumatizing for her, to say the least. She recalled how she felt like she was in limbo: separated from her family and her life.
She also recalled how her finances had suffered from the long wait. Considering that she was left in a lodge in the lavish city of Harare without any financial backing from anyone, it wasn’t surprising at all.
Still, she held on, persisting until she was able to get an exclusive two-hour interview with the ruler.
But the challenges didn’t end there. Technical difficulties came about, especially when it comes to making use of her interview with Mugabe himself. What she wanted the book to reflect wasn’t a reassurance of the public’s perception of the leader but a nuanced manuscript of how the nation approached its doom.
She had to have the transcription of her interview analyzed by psychologists to eradicate traces of what they called “psychobabble.” While it was time-consuming, doing so was necessary to avoid pathologizing Mugabe. If not, the book may not have been able to do something about his image.
She also encountered time constraints. There was much she needed to ask from people like Donato Mugabe and Ian Smith, the last Prime Minister of Rhodesia. She believed she had been fortunate enough to get the information before they passed away.
Interesting Facts About Heidi’s Life as a Journalist
Although she was best known for delivering a different facet of Mugabe’s reign, Heidi is renowned as a writer because she put to practice what she believed without prejudice.
Below are some of the interesting occurrences in her life as a journalist:
- Flabbergasted after fellow Rhodesian journalist Peter Niesewand was detained for embarrassing Ian Smith on television in 1973, Heidi Holland decided to join the opposing Centre Party, which supported the transition of the country’s majority rule.
- She was instrumental in bringing Robert Mugabe his chance at leading rebellion through the guerilla-armed Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). During their first meeting in 1975, she agreed to use her home as liberal politician Ahrn Palley and Mugabe’s secret rendezvous place where they planned for the former guerrilla leader’s departure to Mozambique.
- Heidi Holland revealed Mugabe was a model houseguest who inquired after her child’s welfare after thanking her for her hospitality.
- She caused an outcry from the authorities in 1978 after Defying censorship laws further and publishing Robert Mugabe’s image on the cover of the Illustrated Life Rhodesia magazine— a feat that happened for the very first time in Rhodesia.