Book: Dinner with Mugabe

Book: Dinner with Mugabe

Author: Heidi Holland

Publisher: Penguin

Reviewer: Don Makatile

Those whom the gods want to destroy, so the hackneyed phrase goes, they first make mad.

But no one warned that the gods were not normally in a rush to do so, waiting, in this instance, a whole 84 years.

As if to lend credence to the wisdom of the adage, the world has, almost by natural progression, started referring to Robert Gabriel Mugabe affectionately as Mad Bob.

The belligerence in his speech has become as blunt as the consonants and the vowels that make up language. This, after all, is the same man, holder of no less than seven university degrees, who is on record as having boasted that he has a degree in violence!

Just this week he was quoted as sending a spine-tingling message to his opponents in the March 29 polls, Simba Makoni and Morgan Tsvangirai. "That will never happen here, never, never. We will never allow it. We have enough security forces to handle that."

The Zimbabwean president was warning his adversaries against Kenya-style post-election violence.

In the area of violence, all the others outside the ruling party have done, Tsvangirai included, is limp bruised and battered out of hospitals or jail cells after an encounter with Mugabe's men.

This, Holland's take, was meant to be something fresh regarding the mad persona of Mugabe - a psychological viewpoint.

But the jury is still out on whether or not Holland succeeds at this attempt as she's anything but a shrink.

She's done a lot of good work on Southern African issues in her previous books, notably her book on the ANC, published in the week Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and the racially motivated Van Schoor family murders.

Her choice of subjects are mouth-watering, at least for any writer wishing to find out more about the idiosyncracies that make up Mugabe, freedom fighter turned lunatic.

She opens her account with a cumbersome interview with Robert Mugabe's only surviving brother, Donato Mugabe, before his own death. Other than the pedestrian, she doesn't get much from the awkward Donato and his equally boorish wife, Evelyn, and concludes that "their coldness towards me is understandable".

But try she did!

An interview with Sabina, the president's nutcase sister, would have made for Pulitzer Prize-winning reading.

She speaks to many other people, authors on Mugabe and Zimbabwe have tended to exclude from their works, and this is what makes her book a notch better - people like Mary Soames, widow of Lord Soames, the last governor of Rhodesia.

She ends her commendable work with an interview with the ogre himself, Mugabe, in his lair. Her jitters and Mugabe's bad interviewee manners lose her the chance for a great book.

The line of questioning was great: "Are you a forgiving person?"

Only she came up against someone the gods had marked for a gradual but definite demise.