Stanley Huette Uys

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Biographical information


Journalist and political commentator.

Last name: 
Date of birth: 
27 April 1922
Location of birth: 
Coalbrook, Orange Free State (now Free State Province)
Date of death: 
11 January 2014
Location of death: 
London, England

Stanley Huette Uys was born on 27 April 1922, in Coalbrook, Orange Free State (now Free State Province). His parents, Dirk and Francina, were members of the Dutch Reformed Church. His mother died young and Uys was raised by an English-speaking grandmother, and educated at Athlone High School, Johannesburg, Transvaal (now Gauteng). In time, he was to disown his father and three siblings, finding he had little in common with their strict Calvinism – so much so that his own children never met them.

As a boy, Uys read voraciously. He had worked his way through the George Bernard Shaw canon by the age of 16. Shaw was an influence in his becoming a vegetarian and possibly a journalist, first as a reporter on the now defunct Rand Daily Mail in 1941, then as associate editor of the magazine Libertas. He returned briefly to the Mail before joining the Johannesburg Sunday Times as drama critic. His reviews were not well received and he moved to politics.

He worked from Cape Town as political editor. He had a passionate hatred for the inhumanity and ineptitude of the Afrikaner racist revolution.

The Prime Minister, Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, himself a former editor, was infuriated to see his private words reproduced in the enemy's newspaper. It got to the stage where nationalist MPs were terrified to be seen talking to Uys in the lobby of parliament. He never identified his informant, though an MP was later expelled from the caucus following disclosures of emotional exchanges involving Verwoerd over the removal of the few remaining Black people from the common voters' roll.

Uys and his editor, Joel Mervis led a campaign against the United Party, which culminated in the formation of the breakaway Progressive Party and the eventual disappearance of the official opposition. The Progressive MP, Helen Suzman, fought a lonely battle for 13 years before she was joined by colleagues, but her survival owed much to the support of the English-language press led by Uys.

Uys had a burgeoning list of overseas clients, which included the Press Trust of India, the Observer and the Guardian. He also wrote think pieces for the radical Cape Town journal Africa South. The "lies" he was said to have perpetrated stemmed from these connections. He spoke of battles with "thuggish cabinet ministers and officials and litigious crooks".

In describing Uys as "probably the most unscrupulous liar in South Africa and a self-confessed traitor," the South African government minister Ben Schoeman unwittingly bestowed the highest praise on one of Apartheid's fiercest critics. For 40 years Uys, exercised enormous influence on public opinion on the evils of South Africa’s racial system, in the Johannesburg Sunday Times and in newspapers and radio stations from India to Australia and the United States of America. Uys was considered by colleagues "a prince of journalists".

He upset fellow White people by signing a Ghanaian anti-Apartheid declaration. In the 1960s, a press commission was set up to put the English-language press in its place. Uys and Tony Delius of the Cape Times – then a Guardian contributor – were singled out in the report but the government balked at attempts to neutralise the enemy directly.

In 1966, Uys and a news agency reporter were alone in the House of Assembly press gallery when a parliamentary messenger, Dimitri Tsafendas, assassinated Verwoerd.

In his late 40s, Uys enrolled for a degree at the University of Cape Town. He found time to lecture in African government and law and tutored in social anthropology.

He moved to London in the 1980s to run the office of South Africa's morning paper group chain. His take on the crisis in South Africa was respected by the Foreign Office and the United States of America’s State Department. He became a regular commentator on London’s BBC radio, assessing the 1980s rebellion that heralded the demise of Apartheid and the release of Nelson Mandela. He was equally critical of the African National Congress (ANC) government.

After his semi-retirement in 1986, he and his first wife, Edna, divided their time between London and Cyprus. She passed away in 1993. Later Uys married a fellow South African, Sarchen Burrell.

He passed away from a fatal heart attack, on 11 January 2014, in London, England, after he had completed a blog on President Jacob Zuma entitled The End of History. He is survived by his wife Sarchen, daughter Ingrid and his son, Eugene.

• Herbstein D. (2014).  " Stanley Uys obituary", from The Guardian, 13 January. Available at . Accessed on 23 January 2014.

Last updated : 07-Feb-2014

This article was produced for South African History Online on 24-Jan-2014