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The light went out on Heidi Holland’s life this weekend. The body of the vivacious 64-year-old journalist and author was found at her Melville home on Saturday morning. It is not clear how or when she died. She had not been seen since Thursday morning.
Heidi was one of my closest friends and I usually stayed at her well-known guesthouse, the Melville House, when I was in Joburg and we would often have dinner together.
Last Wednesday was no different, except that Heidi already had dinner plans but we chatted for a couple of hours before she skipped out of the guesthouse at about 6.45pm and into the freezing cold.
“I will see you for breakfast in the morning, doll,” she said, in her chirpy tone as she buttoned up her jacket, put her bag over her shoulder and left.
But when morning came there was no sign of Heidi. Her staff told me she had dropped by at 7am to leave a note for me. “Sorry I won’t see you for breakfast, doll,” the note read. “I have to see the doctor. But I will see you soon. Hx”.
Heidi didn’t return to the guesthouse that day, Women’s Day. She didn’t show up on Friday either.
Her usual beat was the “breakfast shift” between 7am and 9am, and the “evening shift” when she would sit and chat with the guests between 5pm and 7pm.
When she failed to show on Saturday morning, the guesthouse staff contacted her son, Jonah, in London. He sent a friend to her nearby house where her petite body was found slumped in a corner of the garage. A postmortem is currently being carried out.
Those who have stayed at the Melville House will know of Heidi’s longstanding tradition. Each evening she would open a bottle of white wine and the guests would gather at the kitchen table for a chat. She did the same on Wednesday, but she did not have a drink.
“I’m on antibiotics for a stomach complaint,” she told me as she sipped from a glass of orange juice.
But her ailment did not affect the nip in her tongue – for which she was legendary – and most certainly did not curb her wit.
She was in fine form and for a couple of hours she and I and two guests from London chewed the cud about the machinations of ANC politics, one of her favourite topics.
Heidi, who was born in Zimbabwe on October 6, 1947, was a journalist with a keen interest in politics and current affairs.
She is well remembered for her best-selling book “Dinner with Mugabe”, which she published in 2008. She has also written about the ANC and published her first account of the former liberation movement in April 1990 under the title “The Struggle: A history of the African National Congress”, which she re-released earlier this year as 100 Years of Struggle Politics: Mandela’s ANC. Until recently she was a regular columnist with The Star.
She was currently working on a book about racism and though only in its early stages, she already had a working title: “I’m not racist, but…”, her attempt to probe what she felt was a deep-seated racism in people all over the world.
Heidi is survived by her two sons Jonah and Nick, daughter-in-law Nicky, her beloved grandson Hugo, her mother and her siblings.