Chris Heunis dies

Former Cabinet minister Chris Heunis died on Friday, Beeld newspaper reported.

Heunis had been treated for organ failure in a Somerset West clinic for the past six weeks.

Heunis was born in 1927 at Uniondale in the Cape.

He went to school in George, where he began practising as an attorney in 1951, and became district leader of the National Party and a member of the town council.

In 1959 he was returned as member for George of the Provincial Council, where in he served in the late sixties he served on the executive committee.

He entered Parliament in 1970, and in 1974 was sworn in as minister of Indian affairs and tourism, the first of a succession of Cabinet portfolios he was to hold.

In 1979 he was appointed to the government’s Commission for Investigation into the Constitution, and in 1982 became minister of constitutional development.

Heunis was one of the driving forces behind the introduction of the tricameral system, which created coloured and Indian “houses” in Parliament in parallel to the whites-only House of Assembly.

He personally played a major role in getting coloured Labour Party leader Allan Hendrickse to participate in the system, which involved a labyrinthine series of “own affairs” arrangements, and firmly preserved white privilege and power.

In September 1986 he was unanimously elected leader of the Cape NP after President PW Botha unexpectedly stepped down from the party post.

Leadership of the largest of the four semi-autonomous regions of the NP made Heunis a strong contender to become Botha’s eventual successor as president of the country.

But all talk of this was laid to rest the following year when, in a general election, he retained the Helderberg seat by only an embarrassing 39 votes in a contest against former NP MP and South African ambassador to London Dennis Worrall.

Worrall was a constitutional guru with whom Heunis had disagreed inside the NP in earlier years, and his challenge was seen as a direct attack on Henuis’s vision—or lack of it—on the constitutional future of South Africa.

Heunis retired from politics in 1989, and established a law firm in Somerset West with his son Jakkie, where he also involved himself in community work.

There is an old age home in the town named after him, and until earlier this year he was chairperson of the Helderberg Association for the Aged.

Heunis received a string of honours in his lifetime, including an honorary doctorate in philosophy from the University of Stellenbosch and a brace of medals from the South African Police, honorary citizenship of George, the Republic of China’s Order of the Brilliant Star with Grand Cordon, and in 1980 the South African Decoration for Meritorious Service.

He is survived by his wife Alida, four sons and a daughter. - Sapa


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