Determination, guts and roses. The life of a flower seller


A spray of mist awakens a sleepy bloom, a petal unfurls, and the bang and crash of vendors setting up signals the start of a new day at the Adderley Street flower market. Here, thousands of roses and bouquets will change hands in celebration of Valentine’s Day. Amid the festive preparations – today is the equivalent of Christmas for the flower sellers – Diela Gamildien’s laughter rips through the stalls. Her life is rooted in this market, where she was raised in a banana crate. A fourth-generation flower seller, Gamildien is carrying on a tradition that is as much part of her family as it is Cape Town’s history.

Situated in the centre of the city, the market is a burst of colour offering an abundance of cut flowers. In the 1800s, farm and domestic workers bought flowers from farms in Constantia and travelled by bus to the city, where they traded independently. They faced threats of eviction in 1965, when the government declared the street a whites-only area, and again in 1978 when locals raised concerns about vagrants in the area. They didn’t budge. Decades later, the flower sellers still face their share of challenges. But like the generations who came before her, Gamildien’s passion for the business isn’t easily weakened.

When parliament scheduled the State of the Nation address for Valentine’s Day in 2013, it required Adderley Street to be closed off for the ministers’ safety, effectively preventing trading as normal on the busiest day. Gamildien was livid. She refused to take any nonsense, not even from the president. Her feisty protest ensured that pedestrians would still be allowed to access the market, and saved Valentine’s Day for the flower sellers of Adderley Street. While the holiday of love may come and go and the flowers sold will eventually wilt, it’s the sass and fierce determination of women like Gamildien that will remain, keeping alive the flower market and its colourful place in local history.