Brought with his family to Rhodesia in 1925 and continued his education at Umtali High School.
After serving with the infantry in the Middle East during the 1939-45 war, he entered politics at the age of 44, winning a seat in Parliament for Rusape in elections in February 1958. He helped the Rhodesian Front win the elections in December 1962 and he received his reward from Premier Winston Field in junior ministerial office as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Local Government, working with Jack Howman. On April 13, 1964, he was promoted to one of the 12 places in the cabinet in charge of Mines, Lands and Water Development.
Although one of Premier Smith’s most dedicated supporters, he allowed his loyalties to waver in the cabinet crisis of July 1968. Van Heerden veered at first to the side of William Harper whose ultra-right wing proposals for the draft constitution called for phasing out Africans from Parliament. After second thoughts he switched back to Premier Smith and calmly watched Harper being ousted from office.
He clashed with the Methodists in October 1971 when he served notice on the Epworth Mission at Chishawasha, outside Salisbury, that they would have to move from land bequeathed to them by Cecil Rhodes in 1892. In November 1971 Premier Ian Smith, angered by what he regarded as a politically clumsy piece of timing, suspended the Van Heerden order to avoid upsetting his negotiations with Sir Alec Douglas- Home for an independence agreement with Britain. In the May 1973 reshuffle he was given a mandate to work alongside the Premier and coordinate the work of all ministries.
His political reputation is largely based on piloting the controversial Land Tenure Act through Parliament in October 1969. The European farmers applauded him when he justified the division of the country’s land equally between 230,000 whites and 5,250,000 blacks, on the grounds that it would “ease the braking effect of the African Tribal Trust lands on the growth of the economy as a whole". But he had to face a storm from the Roman Catholic church because the Act required churches to register and seek permission to continue their multi-racial work in missions, schools and hospitals. There were uneasy moments when the church stressed that great harm could be done to the Faith by the Act obliging an
His bulldozing tactics caused some of his cabinet colleagues embarrassment at the time of negotiations with the British government in November 1971. Yet he won widespread support from the European farmers for putting their interests above all other considerations.