Five years ago, Constable Laeeq Engelbrecht, 31, won a police award for confiscating the most guns while patrolling Bishop Lavis, one of Cape Town’s most notorious townships.
But despite the policeman’s bravado on the daily beat, after hours he’s a smitten father and a passionate geek who runs a backyard internet café where local kids use the free Wi-Fi.
“Yes, I built all of this on my policeman’s salary,” he says proudly, showing City Press around his home in Paarl.
“I love technology. Giving internet to the youth here is very important to me. It’s the only place they can get online around here – I mean it’s an R18 taxi ride to the internet cafés in the centre of town.”
The couple’s house in northern Paarl is in a quiet suburb where children and dogs play on the streets at dusk.
Inside, a short passage connects an open-plan kitchen and lounge to the internet café with its three computers and lilac gauze curtains.
Engelbrecht pours cooldrink into glasses. Although it’s his day off, he’s dressed in full police uniform for the interview – cap and all.
The house was a surprise gift to his wife, Wesaal, 28, a personal gym trainer with a sports science honours degree, when they married four years ago.
They have a 3-year-old daughter, Aneeqah.
“Aneeqah is our everything,” smiles Wesaal.
She fetches their wedding photo album in which Engelbrecht can be seen in a white, pinstriped suit showing his bride their new home.
Just this week, two security cameras were stolen off the house’s outside wall.
Engelbrecht shrugs: “It’s the drug problem, you know. I do what I can … Every little bit helps.”
He says policing is a calling – and it runs in his family’s blood.
Engelbrecht touched hearts around the world this week when a photograph of him sharing his lunch of takeaway fish and chips with elderly homeless woman Magdalene du Preez – who sleeps next to a strip mall in Kraaifontein on Cape Town’s northern outskirts – went viral.
He relays how he tracked his fame with astonishment after posting the picture – taken by his partner, Constable Elton de Koker – on Facebook last Saturday.
By Friday, it had elicited more than 31 000 “likes” and 9 500 reposts, with wishes pouring in from around the world.
“I always speak to Auntie Magdalene or share my lunch with her and really never expected all of this. People have contacted me from Australia and Ireland – people from churches, organisations and old age homes want me to host talks or whatever. I try to respond to everyone,” he says.
On Thursday, Kraaifontein station commander Gerda van Niekerk presented him with a lofty letter of “commendation for excellent services rendered” – and there is talk of recognition from higher up in the police service.
The letter reads: “I hereby wish to take this opportunity to commend Constable LM Engelbrecht for setting an example by displaying kindness and respect to the community. His story went viral on social media and attracted positive feedback.”
Meanwhile, the Kraaifontein Police Station is planning a birthday bash for Du Preez when she turns 60 on October 2.
Engelbrecht says: “Auntie Magdalene has been very lonely since her husband died two years ago. So we’ll treat her: have her hair done; we’ll get her nice new clothes and take her out to eat.”
The goodwill has picked up momentum and a woman from Franschhoek has offered to bake Du Preez a birthday cake.
Engelbrecht says he will try to convince Du Preez to move into a shelter, although it appears that she wants to remain at her spot near the strip mall. News24