PE family mystified over the reason for his death, writes Amir Chetty
The discovery of Port Elizabeth policeman and cyclist Mike van der Watt’s body on Thursday came as a shock to members of his family, who described him as “the life of the party”.
Van der Watt’s brother, Willem 40, spoke glowingly about the memories he shared with his brother while they were growing up.
“He was such a fun-loving person, very family-orientated, and he was always the life of the party.
“He was very fond of animals. My mother’s family in Namibia owned farms, so as youngsters we would often visit them and play with the animals.
“Whenever family functions were held, we would know that Mike was in the house. He was always making jokes, so this came as a major shock to us,” a distraught Willem said.
Willem also spoke about Van der Watt’s passion for cycling, having competed in numerous cycling races, including the Herald Cycle Tour.
A member of the Motherwell tactical response team, Van der Watt went missing from his Rowallan Park home on Monday.
His canary-yellow Trek bicycle was found under some bushes just off the R102 on Wednesday. A day later, at about 2pm, his body was found in the Van Stadens Gorge.
He had sustained a single gunshot wound to the head and his service pistol, which he had taken along on his 6am cycle on Monday morning, was found next to his body.
Willem said the family had been together when the news came that Van der Watt’s body had been found.
He said he had just returned home on Thursday afternoon when members of SAPS came to deliver the news.
“I already knew what they were about to tell us. I was standing outside when they arrived, and when one of the officers took my hand, I knew,” he said.
He said there had been no indication that Mike had been having personal or job-related issues, as they had kept in regular contact.
“There was no indication that he was facing any difficulties, either at work or at home – we might have a five-year age difference, but we grew up as twins, and spoke to each other about everything,” Willem said.
“We [the family] have accepted what has happened. We are taking it day by day. One thing I’m glad about is that his body was returned to us and it’s not out there.”
He said that after growing up in Namibia with brothers Mike, 34, and Hannes, 42, and their parents Johanna, 68, and Michael snr, 71, they moved to Port Elizabeth in 1986, where all three brothers attended primary school at Rowallan Park before matriculating at Framesby High School.
Asked if Van der Watt’s job could have contributed to the situation, Willem said: “We never spoke about his work, because he could never tell me what he was doing, as it was part of a protocol he had to follow, so I never asked him about work. But he never once came to me and said life was getting too much for him.”
Willem said the family was overwhelmed by the support they had received since Van der Watt’s disappearance on Monday.
He said no funeral arrangements had been finalised, saying they could only be made once the autopsy was completed.
Willem said work colleagues of his brother, as well as neighbours, had come to pay their respects.
He said a decision on whether to have him buried or cremated would rest with his wife, Unity.
Police spokeswoman Captain Priscilla Naidu said: “A police officer’s job is very stressful and they encounter dangerous situations in their line of duty.
“We have our own employee health and wellness programmes which include professional psychologists and social workers.
“We encourage our members to utilise these services when the need arises.”