CJ and Marietha van Zyl were both in town residences – CJ in Oryx and Marietha in Acacia. Here they are as young students, attending a dinner organised by their residences.

Facing challenges


To get along better with the local people and to facilitate their task as teachers, CJ and Marietha learnt to speak Arabic. Another challenge was the searing heat of the desert region.  Marietha explains that the region gets very little rain – only two days a year.


Desert adventure bears fruit for South African couple

There are few things as romantic as poems and ballads, but in the case of CJ and Marietha van Zyl, a straightforward study guide was all Cupid needed to make their hearts beat faster.

What followed was a student romance that later developed into marriage vows, and today – after the birth of two children – plays out in an international adventure in the United Arab Emirates.


Marietha explains: “In 2008 Annette Willemse, a communication practitioner on the NWU’s campus in Vanderbijlpark, asked a group of students to play at modelling for a photo session. The result was a study guide cover with a photograph of my and CJ’s faces! Looking back now, that study guide cover is one of our most treasured memories of our life as students.”


CJ started his BEd studies at the NWU in 2006, after completing his schooling at the Vanderbijlpark High School. Marietha, a former learner of the Driehoek High School, started her BEd studies in 2007.


“We met on the campus in 2007, and became engaged on the banks of the Vaal River in 2011,” she recalls.


Student life without limits


To the Van Zyls, their student days were some of the best of their lives.  In CJ’s third year he was elected as a house committee member of Oryx, the town residence, while Marietha, a second-year student at the time, was elected to the house committee of the Acacia town residence.


Their time as student leaders was special and many of the friends they made then are still friends today.

“Oryx and Acacia were paired up as ‘dating residences’ in those days, and consequently we shared a lot of student fun,” says CJ. “However, I am sure that our house father, Dr Sydney Vos, and house mother, Marietjie van der Ryst, didn’t always share in the excitement of our student fun. I suspect they frequently wanted to take to their heels!” he recounts, laughing.


During this time CJ was responsible for Oryx social projects, and Marietha was involved in the Acacia health and safety portfolio. She was also the vice-primaria in 2009.

Life in the United Arab Emirates


In 2015 the Van Zyls and their eldest daughter, Zayla (now four years old), took the big step and emigrated to Dubai.

They were young and looking for adventure, and – according to Marietha – have never regretted this decision for a moment.“The adjustment was big initially, but we are really happy. CJ and I have good posts as teachers at state schools and our children are thriving. Our second child, Wernhard (now one year old), was born in Dubai,” Marietha says.

The school curriculum in the United Arab Emirates is based on the American curriculum and differs considerably from the South African version. Before the Van Zyls emigrated, CJ taught at the Suiderlig High School in Vanderbijlpark and Marietha at the Lefika Primary School in Sebokeng.


The Van Zyls live about 130 km from Dubai, in the town of Al Ain. “Dubai is a hodgepodge of cultures, and it is incredible to see how people from across the world live.


“In this respect we are grateful for the opportunity to raise our children culture-smart,” CJ says, adding that their international adventure has brought them and their children many important life experiences – experiences that they would perhaps not have had in South Africa.”


Yes, they may live in a desert region but it seems as if their lives are fruitful and fulfilling.

The NWU & U


Please send us your comments, suggestions and any other contributions you would like to make, for instance photographs or news snippets.


We value your opinions and input – after all, the NWU & U belongs to us all.






Next Article

previous article



more info

Feet firmly on the ground


Both CJ and Marietha feel that the role their parents – and particularly their mothers – played in their education shaped the way they live their lives today. As single parents, Solome van Zyl and Magda van der Merwe taught their children to remain anchored to their roots and never to do anything but their best.


“We learnt that giving up was simply not an option, and that dreams should be pursued,” Marietha says, adding that better role models than these two women would be hard to find.


NWU & U  |

NWU & U  |

Desert adventure bears fruit for South African couple