GEORGE NEWS - At an age when many people think of relaxing in the golden years of retirement, a resident of Hoekwil, Dr Yvette van Wijk (77), had other plans. Seven years ago, at the age of 70, she enrolled for her PhD in botany and anthropology at Rhodes University. She graduated recently on 12 April - 57 years after she first graduated from Rhodes with a BA Fine Art.
And that is not the end of it. She is not planning to sit idle, but is writing papers for publication in academic journals and is considering writing an e-book based on her thesis.
Yvette married John van Wijk in 1963 and they settled in Grahamstown. In 1971 they moved to a smallholding at Stones Hill where she grew herbs and vegetables, made cheese and butter, and sold eggs at home industries.
She also wrote some books and gave courses about growing and using herbs.
During that time she attended botanical taxonomy lectures at Rhodes and was a volunteer at the Albany Museum in the Schonland Herbarium.
She currently stays on a plot of 3,5 hectares in Hoekwil with her husband John and three dogs. They moved to the Southern Cape in 1992, and before starting her PhD, she was honorary curator at the Southern Cape Herbarium in the Garden Route Botanical Garden for many years.
The most difficult part of writing her thesis was to integrate the different disciplines without separating them.
In short, her PhD concludes that people have influenced the vegetation where they lived for many thousands of years, and that today's generation doesn't realise how interdependent people, plants and the environment are. "We need to get back to acceptance and reliance on the holistic oneness of everything," she says.
When asked if she would recommend studying at this age she answers, "Most definitely yes. Age should not matter."
She found the PhD studies stimulating and fun much of the time, especially visiting the many archaeological sites in the Southern Cape, and interacting with local traditional communities to learn about their use of plants today.
"But it was quite tough at times too, and took much longer than I thought it would or should."
Her advice to students who are studying at the moment is, "You need to be passionately interested in what you are studying."
On the future of South Africa she is cautiously positive.
"There are so many great people here, young and old. The very varied mix of young graduates that passed with distinctions and cum laude in so many disciplines at the Rhodes graduation (and other universities) gives one hope for the future."
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