It's not unusual to spot UCT Campus Protection Services officer Riaan Witbooi bolting around lower campus near the Irma Stern Museum and the Welgelegen building, whether in running shorts or in full security regalia.
The full-time security officer has a super power: he can run really, really fast.
Take his first half-marathon, for instance. Starting the 2013 Two Oceans 21 km race in the E-block – which is reserved for social runners – Riaan crossed the finishing line only 12 minutes slower than the winner, Stephen Mokoka, to clock an impressive time of one hour and 15 minutes.
A persistent groin injury and broken shoes have stymied his progress since then, but Witbooi still has a full marathon in his sights – the Cape Town Marathon in September is trembling in its trainers.
His running prowess has come in handy at work, too. He once chased a burglar for a good kilometre from Cecil Road down to the Liesbeeck Gardens residence. The bandit got away after unsportingly biting Witbooi.
“Security work is tough,” he remarks. “You have to look after cars and students, so things are always happening.”
Security at UCT
Riaan's security career at UCT started on 16 September 2004, but as of 1 July 2016, he can finally call himself a UCT staff member.
After being born and raised in the searing heat of Carnarvon, Northern Cape, Riaan came to Cape Town in search of a job. He moved to Beaufort West when he was only nine – his son, Radeem, still lives there.
Radeem is in Grade 4, and Witbooi tries to visit him as often as he can – sometimes four times a year, sometimes only once.
Riaan's daughter, Faith, celebrated her second birthday recently, and he is hopeful that the benefits of being a permanent UCT staff member will help him to take care of his children.
“Becoming a UCT staff member opens up many opportunities, like being able to study further,” he says. “It's just about staying positive. We have opportunities now that we didn't have before. I'm thankful for that.”
Riaan's commitment to the next generation shines through when talking about his career goals. Besides his aspirations of running professionally, he wants to dedicate more time to coaching and mentoring young athletes. He's been doing just that at the Eersterivier Running Club, which he runs for.
He's got coaching badges already, but long hours at work mean that training sessions have often ended by the time he gets back home during the week. But, with the new working hours, it seems he'll have more time to coach the young runners, design training programmes and find sponsors for them.
Long hours shouldn't affect his plans to start a homework club for kids in his neighbourhood.
“It doesn't help to focus on sports but neglect academics. You must look after both aspects. Next year, I'd like to see about helping two or three schoolchildren with uniforms too. That's my vision.”
It's a tough ask. Gangsters often try to derail such plans, seemingly miffed that the young generation are choosing school and sports over swelling the ranks of the gangs.
“For me that [attitude] is unnecessary. If you see somebody making it in life, support them – everybody has a dream. Just because you're a gangster doesn't mean you should be jealous of that dream.”
“Maar ek sien rerig uit na die varsity-stories (But I'm really looking forward to being part of the university),” he grins.
Story Yusuf Omar. Photo Michael Hammond.
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