THEY say that any company surviving the second year of business is a sign that it is a viable concern. But what about a company that has endured a world war, recessions, floods and fire? And not just survived but, over the last 80 years, has become one of the most respected construction companies in the Eastern Cape?
CM Heunis has done this and more. Now, in its 81st year, a new team is at the helm and set to take the company forward toward the next 80 years of success.
As one of the most prestigious building companies in the area, it has been passed down through three generations of the Heunis family and was recently purchased by Brian Knight and Hain Ackerman. Brian is the managing partner of CM Heunis, a company for which he has worked since 2002 and Hain has been with the company since 2007. Knight has over 30 years’ experience in the construction industry. Ackerman is a qualified Quantity Surveyor and assures cost-effective solutions to customers.
“To be the CEO of the company I have grown to admire is a privilege,” said Knight. “Now in its 80s, we need to ensure the legacy built by the Heunis family is maintained and improved upon through future generations.”
From humble beginnings
The founder of the company, Cornelius Marthinus Heunis, was a lumberman from the Knysna Forests who moved to Alexandria where he married and had four children. Having formed the company, Cornelius was involved in the construction of 43 Air School near Port Alfred during World War 2.
Although Cornelius knew how to build, and his son, Bobby, was a qualified carpenter, they also knew enough to realise they needed someone with the business sense to help develop the company further. So they called on another member of the family, another son, Cornelius Christian, who had the administrative skills to take the company forward.
Not long after, the brothers, Bobby and Cornelius junior, realised they could not work with their father and so built a home for him at Bushman’s River Mouth with the strict understanding he would remain a silent partner from that point forward.
Afrikaners in an English town
As an Afrikaans family working in the predominantly English-speaking Grahamstown, the brothers should have been at a disadvantage as there were already building companies in the area owned by English-speakers, but that did not deter them. Their next big break came in 1950 when Benny Goldberg, the retail liquor store, hired the company to build the Graham Hotel in High Street, a brick-faced building that has become one of the city’s prominent landmarks.
Next, CM Heunis tackled the three storey-high Celeste Flats, and after that a new ward block at Fort England Hospital, Municipal House, an old age home and municipal houses on Sugar Loaf Hill.
Having proven their talents on these large-scale construction projects, in 1955 CM Heunis also built the PJ Olivier Primary School.
It was at this time that Jan Vogel joined the company and, as a carpentry apprentice, he could not have suspected that years later he would one day become a partner in the business.
CM Heunis is famous for building schools such as St Mary’s, extensions at St Andrew’s College, Kingswood and Mary Waters High School, among others. There were also other buildings constructed over this period including Pioneer Ford, Beaufort Service Station, Connocks Butchery, Krige Corner Hill, and St Mary’s Primary School.
Swinging with the sixties
The ’60s saw the building boom continue and CM Heunis went from strength to strength with construction projects for domestic dwellings, and the company was commissioned to build the houses of the Grahamstown legal fraternity along with many homes for the high court judges.
New facilities at Rhodes University were also constructed over this time, such as additions to Espin House, Merriman Annexe as well as squash courts at St Andrew’s College. The new teaching block at Kingswood College was also constructed.
The company also helped reconstruct the 1820 Settlers Museum in Grahamstown – a job that Cornelius’ grandson, who served the company as CEO until his recent retirement, believed the company lost money on by not realising the hardness of the Grahamstown rock.
Bringing it up to date
The ’70s saw a huge recession in the building industry but the company was commissioned to upgrade the military base at Six South African Infantry Battalion as well as the Rhodes Theatre Complex, the pharmacy building, the new Law and Education buildings as well as the Sanlam building.
As the years have passed, the company has grown from strength to strength and is still going. Neels Heunis, the son of Cornelius Christian, took over the company from his father and uncle. By 2000 the company formed a new branch in Port Alfred, essentially to service the growing needs in Kenton-on-Sea, Bushman’s River area and at the Royal Alfred Marina development. But, the first project was the construction of the Guido’s building at West Beach, and that put them firmly on the radar of those looking to build in the area and opened the doors to a brand-new market.
One of the most complex jobs the company undertook was the Eden Grove complex at Rhodes University, which was the first that CM Heunis together with Roy Bowles had undertaken that required post-tensioned concrete slabs.
“The roof, with its wings, was so complex that the architects constructed a model, so we could understand the drawings,” said Neels.
This project, however, showed potential customers that there was no limit to the expertise CM Heunis could bring to a job, and the experience gained means they are able to tackle any type of projects.
The Company has entered into a few joint venture agreements in the past few years one of them being with Roy Bowles Construction to be able to tackle bigger project and is proud to have them on board as their JV Partners
Neels led the business until the transfer of ownership to Knight and his partners, in September 2016 and, more recently, George Ngesi joined and became a partner. Neels is still part of the team as a mentor but is slowly withdrawing from the company until he retires.
Ngesi is a partner who holds multiple tertiary qualifications, with a Bachelor of Social Sciences and Philosophy of Sustainable Development from both the University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch. He founded his own company, Ginmor Holdings (Pty) Limited, offering a diversified suite of construction services.
The Estimating and QS team consists of Hain, assisted by Rory McNelis and Warren Marshall. The Construction Team is headed by Knight, ably assisted by Willie Botes and Johannes Opperman as senior foreman, with Steve Mears, James Coetzer, Duppie Meyer and Louis Nortje as foremen.
CM Heunis also works with a variety of architects and structural engineers from Port Alfred and further afield.
CM Heunis Construction CC specialises in residential, commercial and industrial buildings. The company has been a member of the Master Builders Association for more than 60 years, an incredible and rich history of constructing some of the area’s finest and iconic buildings of this and last century. There is no job too big or too small for CM Heunis Construction CC.