Luís Bernado Honwana was born Luís Augusto Bernardo Manuel in Lourenço Marques (present-day Maputo), Mozambique. His parents, Raúl Bernardo Manuel (Honwana) and Naly Jeremias Nhaca, belonged to the Ronga people from Moamba, a town about 55 km northwest of Maputo.
He studied law in Portugal and worked for some time as a journalist. He was appointed director of President's office under Samora Machel. Later in 1981, he became Secretary of State for culture. He served on the Executive Board of UNESCO from 1987 to 1991 and was chairman of UNESCO's Intergovernmental Committee for the World Decade for Culture and Development. In 1995, he was appointed director of the newly opened UNESCO office in South Africa. Since he retired from the organization in 2002, he has been active in research in the arts, history and ethno-linguistics.
Honwana is the author of a single book, Nós Matámos o Cão-Tinhoso (1964), translated into English as We Killed Mangy Dog and Other Stories, and the tale "Hands of the Blacks". This work has proved enormously influential and a case can be made for it being the touchstone of contemporary Mozambican narrative. We Killed Mangy Dog is a collection of short stories set in the (Portuguese) colonial era at the turn of the sixties and is reflective of the harsh life black Mozambicans lived under the Salazar regime. Several of the stories are told from the point of view of children or alienated adolescents and most feature the rich mix of races, religions and ethnicities that would later preoccupy Mozambique's most internationally celebrated writer, Mia Couto.