A quite lengthy book review I did on Heidi Holland’s “psycho-biography” of Zimbabwean “President” Robert Mugabe, Dinner with Mugabe, was just published in the newly established Abu Dhabi-based, English language newspaper, The National (kind of an Al Jazeera English of print in the Middle East).
The title of the book, refers to Holland’s first fateful meeting with Mugabe in 1975 in Salisbury, where she worked as magazine editor. She arranged for a lawyer friend to meet Mugabe secretly at her suburban home. Over dinner Mugabe said little, but impressed Holland nonetheless: driving Mugabe to the train station after the meeting (his ride had failed to materialize), Holland left her small son asleep alone in the house. The next day, Mugabe called to check that the child was OK.
Since then, Holland (who had moved to South Africa) watched as Mugabe went from liberation hero to tyrant. The book ends with Holland interviewing Mugabe again at his presidential office in 2007. Quite a coup given that Mugabe rarely grants interviews to foreign (especially white) journalists. Holland’s interview, despite the hype, however, does not offer us much new information or analysis.
Nevertheless, Holland covers a lot of ground in the book. Mugabe’s roots, his rise to power, violence as political culture in Zimbabwe and, crucially, why so few in the West said or did anything when Zimbabwean government forces murdered 20,000 Ndebeles in what amounted to an ethnic purge between 1982 and 1987.
Here’s an excerpt from my review of Holland’s book:
“… One of the legacies of that time – and a testament of the power of the nationalist narrative that African independence leaders embodied – is that few if any of Mugabe’s present Western critics publicly denounced these murders. Instead he received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in 1994 and honorary degrees from American universities. The economy was growing steadily even in the hostile shadow of Apartheid South Africa and access to education and health services markedly improved. As Lord Corrington, the British foreign secretary during independence negotiations, tells Holland: “But other than the killing of the Ndebele, it went tolerably well under Mugabe at first, didn’t it? He wasn’t running a fascist state. He didn’t appear to be a bad dictator.”
The full review here