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Closing one book, opening another

She has worked hard, climbed to the heights of success, and now she can enjoy what the new chapter in life has to offer.

Martie Heystek from the east of Johannesburg and former principal of Marais Viljoen High School for 18 years retired in 2022. She shares her journey as a wife, mother, career-driven woman and how she experienced life after retirement.

Looking back over the years

She began her teaching career in 1980, teaching physical science at Marais Viljoen.

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When she was appointed at Marais Viljoen in 1980, she had all the matriculants for physical sciences. She worked very hard. As she is Afrikaans speaking it came as a shock to her to be teaching lessons in English. However, Martie highlights that it was one of the best things that could have happened to her.

‘It was good because it forced me to be bilingual and that benefitted me in my career.’

In 1985, Martie was appointed Head of Department (HOD) of physical science and 10 years thereafter she was appointed deputy head at the school. Her hard work and dedication earned her the position of acting principal in 2004 for merely a year when, in January 2005, at the age of 48, she stepped into her role as principal of Marais Viljoen.

Martie believes she was destined to be a principal because her purpose was to make an impact and make a difference in the lives of the children she has taught and staff who have been under her leadership.

She added, ‘I personally realised that the first five years of being the principal was a double challenge. I had to adapt to my new role as principal and work hard to prove to myself and parents that a woman can be a principal as there weren’t many female principals during that time.’

Martie got married in 1981 to her husband, Dr Ben Heystek, and had her first daughter in 1984. Driven by her passion for teaching, maternity leave felt too long for Martie.

In 1988, her second daughter was born. Both her children attended Marais Viljoen where they excelled academically, culturally and in sports.

Despite her busy life before retirement Martie ensured she priortised her loved ones and continues to do so.

Transition to retirement

‘In South Africa, government employees are required to retire at the age of 65. If I was not required to retire at that age, I would not have,’ said Martie.

She describes retirement as a dreadful and pleasant experience. ‘I spent 43 years of my life at Marais Viljoen and I enjoyed every moment of it and during my time there I could make a difference,’ she highlighted.

Coming into retirement was challenging for Martie because shortly after retiring she lost her mother who she describes as her best friend. She also lost her pets and thereafter, her husband, who was her biggest supporter throughout her career, passed away.

‘I did not expect my life to change so drastically but I remain grateful and blessed,’ said Martie with a brave face.

In the first few months after retiring, Martie occupied herself with spring cleaning and often visited her mother before she passed away. These things helped Martie adjust to her new life. It is a big gap between being busy all the time and having more time on your hands and for Martie, retirement is that big gap. ‘I did not know that it is such a drastic change in your life – from hero to zero,’ she said.

Although she had her legacy and accomplished everything she set out to do, retirement is something she was not fully prepared for. Her passion for teaching still burnt strongly and with that, Martie gave extra classes in the afternoon, but it was still not fulfilling for her. ‘My whole life I could help children and not being able to do that anymore has been a sorrowful thing.’

The start of a new chapter

As a result of Martie’s passion for teaching and children, she is currently dedicating her skills and expertise at Studler Academy in Alberton. She continues to spend time with her children and grandchildren and when she is not teaching or spending time with her loved ones, she is resting and enjoying her favourite soapie.

Martie feels blessed to still be doing what she loves while having extra time for herself. ‘As much as it has been a drastic change, I am enjoying where I am and embracing every moment. One can never be ready for retirement but it is always best to be prepared,’ she emphasized.

One can never be ready for retirement but it is always best to be prepared

Text and Photo: Desnay Peterson

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