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Author Heidi Holland found dead at S. Africa home

Saturday - 8/11/2012, 2:41pm  ET

By JON GAMBRELL
Associated Press

JOHANNESBURG (AP) - Journalist and author Heidi Holland, who chronicled the rise of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe from freedom fighter to power-obsessed leader, died Saturday at her home in South Africa, police said. She was 64.

Lt. Col. Katlego Mogale said a gardener found Holland's body Saturday in her home in Melville, a suburb of Johannesburg, dead from an apparent suicide. Mogale said there were no signs of foul play, nor any items missing from her home to suggest a burglary.

Holland grew up in Zimbabwe, then white-controlled Rhodesia, but described in her 2008 book "Dinner With Mugabe" her sympathy for the future president and others fighting to wrest control of the nation back to black Africans. She recounted first meeting Mugabe in 1975 at a dinner, and having to leave her toddler son at home alone to drive him to a train he was about to miss.

Holland interviewed Mugabe in November 2007, after he ordered white-owned farms seized, which saw hundreds of thousands of black farm laborers lose their jobs, fertile lands wasted and nearly a third of the population flee. Later in his rule, he'd unleash soldiers and ruling party members on opposition supporters, who killed and injured with impunity. Though Zimbabwe is now run by a unity government, it remains fragile and there are few signs that Mugabe, who has ruled the nation since 1980, will give up power willingly.

"I think he's in denial, I think he can't face what he's done in Zimbabwe because that isn't what he intended to do," Holland told The Associated Press in 2008. "He did genuinely, I think, want to be the savior of his people, the liberator of an oppressed nation."

Holland recently published "100 Years of Struggle: Mandela's ANC," a book about South Africa's governing African National Congress. She has had articles published in a number of newspapers as a freelance journalist, and had an occasional column in Johannesburg newspaper The Star.

She is survived by sons Jonah Hull, a correspondent for satellite news channel Al-Jazeera English, and Niko Patrikios.

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Jon Gambrell can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jongambrellap.


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)