Farewell to our town’s ‘flower girl’

Former Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality (EMLM) head of parks and recreation, Ronell van Zyl, who had been working for the municipal department for 44 years has retired and will soon enjoy the ocean breeze from her home in Still Bay.

Van Zyl, who arrived in Komani fresh out of university in August 1974, took on a role as an intern at the Queenstown Public Gardens where her first assignment was to establish a glass house to protect plants from frost. She built a rockery inside what they used to call a ‘mother house’ where they would propagate plants from cuttings and kept various other plants.

She was later appointed as a horticulturist stationed at the Queenstown public gardens. “In those years we had to do 18 months of theory and another 18 months of practical work and I had the opportunity to come and work in Komani. I was responsible for taking care of the public gardens, the glass houses and the nursery. As the years progressed my responsibilities grew and I was involved in planting trees and grass cutting. Around 1994, I was promoted to parks superintendent where the whole of Queenstown, including cemeteries, sports fields and open areas were my responsibility.”

In 2009 Van Zyl became the manager of parks and recreation when she pushed for the establishment of the new Lesseyton cemetery including the planning and the initiation of both Ilinge and Lukhanji cemeteries. She has been working throughout the years ensuring that the town was clean and beautified.

I used to give talks to the garden club and I would visit schools on Arbor Day where I would educate children on how to plant trees. I was always involved in a lot of gardening activity. We used to grow seedlings, shrubs and trees and sell them to the public.”

She also introduced an annual garden competition and used to spend days looking around gardens and pavements at homes, flats and business buildings in all areas of town, including the VAN area, Mlungisi and Ezibeleni before deciding who should win the coveted awards.

The retired mother of two used to do flower arrangements for church and municipal functions and indicated that mayoral inductions were, in the past, a huge thing. “We used to put up fantastic shows and the town hall stage would look like a waterfall with all the beautiful plants.”

In the late 80s, Van Zyl joined The Rep family and wrote a monthly gardening column in which she covered in-depth gardening topics. She attributed her love for nature and plants to her mother who was fond of flowers.

What I have done in Komani was with the help and grace of God, my heavenly father. All honour and glory must go to God. I cannot do anything without Him. I am so humbled by what God has done in all the years that I have worked in the municipality.”

Van Zyl said her wish had always been to go back to the ocean, since she had grown up in Bushman’s River. She added that she loved working with old people and will be involved in a lot of community work.

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