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By Getrude Makhafola

Premium Journalist

Heunis booted out of Stellenbosch University convocation

Heunis lost to his deputy Dr Rudy Buys.

The longstanding Stellenbosch University (SU) convocation president Advocate Jan Heunis has been voted out following weeks of tensions over embattled Vice-Chancellor Wim de Villiers’ nepotism scandal.

Voting through ballot papers and online took place at the extraordinary convocation meeting held at Bloemhof Girls’ High in Stellenbosch on Thursday.

Students as well as current and former staff and alumni, including billionaire businessman Christo Wiese, addressed the gathering before voting began.

Blow to Heunis

Audited results from Friday night show that online voters delivered the heaviest blow to Heunis and his supporters.

ALSO READ: Stellenbosch: Billionaire Christo Wiese backs motion against Heunis

At least 1 559 people voted to oust the legal eagle, with 811 voting against the motion.

Twenty-eight others abstained.

On the second motion against Heunis’ deputy Dr Rudy Buys, 1 312 voted against his removal, while 934 wanted him gone.

At least 98 abstained.

The results will be deemed valid and final if there are no objections in the next two days.

Heunis and De Villiers’ rocky history

Thursday’s meeting took place after the university was thrown into turmoil when Heunis tabled a motion calling for the removal of De Villiers.

Stellenbosch’s prominent academics such as Thuli Madonsela and Jonathan Jansen backed De Villiers and went into defence mode, accusing Heunis of taking decisions willy-nilly without consulting convocation.

The vice-chancellor’s recent woes started when his wife’s nephew was admitted to study medicine at the university.

It later emerged that someone with better academic results was not accepted for the same course.

When the matriculant asked why the application was rejected, De Villiers said he used the rector’s discretionary placement policy to get the nephew admitted.

According to Heunis, the nephew was subsequently deregistered.

RELATED: Stellenbosch University council to probe ‘grave’ nepotism claims against embattled VC

De Villiers reportedly enrolled another relative, dragging SU Registrar Dr Ronel Retief into the fray.

In 2019, Heunis and three executive committee members resigned in protest over a report exonerating De Villiers during the language policy debacle.

The vice-chancellor was accused of trying to influence the language case at the Constitutional Court when he offered former Justice Edwin Cameron a chancellor post.

Heunis and his supporters, including Democratic Alliance MP Leon Schreiber, went into a fit, with the former promising to resign should De Villiers be exonerated.

Heunis delivered on his promise and stepped down along with his executive committee at the time.

He also resigned as a council member back in 2017 but remained convocation president.

The senior counsel was re-elected back into the convocation in 2020.

‘Time for change’

Convocation member Dr Louise van Rhyn led the charge against Heunis and tabled the motion last month.

Lobbying for votes raged on for weeks across social media platforms and chat groups.

ALSO READ: Inside Stellenbosch University’s tug of war over beleaguered vice-chancellor

Ahead of Thursday, Van Rhyn told members in a chat group that Heunis has no experience in leading “a large and complex organisation with diverse stakeholders”.

“His commitment to a single issue – Afrikaans – and inability or unwillingness to engage with all the other challenges and opportunities faced by SU leadership has taken a massive toll.

“It is time for a change.”

In a response to The Citizen last week, Heunis said he was astonished by accusations that he and his supporters reject transformation.

“This is devoid of all truth. At last year’s convocation annual meeting, I provided a detailed and motivated criticism of the Khampepe report that had absolutely nothing to do with the desirability or otherwise of transformation.

“My insistence regarding the retention of Afrikaans as a co-equal language of instruction together with English is motivated by the fact that there are so many rural brown people who find it difficult to study at tertiary level in English,” he said.

Convocation celebrates

Several alumni members in Van Rhyn’s camp gathered on Friday night ready to celebrate the convocation outcome.

They coined the term “bridge builders” for themselves, vowing to bring in a “new democratic era” at Stellenbosch University.

“Together let us herald a new dawn for Stellenbosch convocation. The possibilities are boundless and our impact is immeasurable,” said one member.

“I am filled with overwhelming gratitude. It feels good to stand for something! Well done to you all,” wrote Thembalethu Seyisi, who was vocal in calling for change over the past few weeks.

Both Scheiber and Heunis are pro-Afrikaans language proponents.

Schreiber left no stone unturned when he slammed the Khampepe report, saying it “scapegoats the Afrikaans language for any problems at the university”.

The university council appointed retired Judge Carole Lewis two months ago to head the investigation against De Villiers.

Buys, a favourite among those who wanted Heunis ousted, is now the interim president until a new executive committee is elected.

NOW READ: SA’s R1.2bn biomedical research facility opens its doors at Stellenbosch University

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