Ruda on Derek – the other half of Carte Blanche on her relentless ‘paddy paws’ partner
This enlightening interview explores the partnership of Ruda Landman and Derek Watts, two iconic co-hosts of South Africa’s leading actuality television show, Carte Blanche. Ruda talks about a nearly 20-year collaboration, their impact on journalism during a transformative period in South Africa’s history and the unique bond that made the duo synonymous with investigative reporting – plus a heartfelt glimpse into Derek Watts’s final days.
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Relevant timestamps from the interview
- 00:11 – Introductions
- 01:08 – Ruda Landman on the outpouring of tributes to her former colleague Derek
- 03:57 – Carte Blanche during its early days
- 05:02 – On their chemistry despite their backgrounds
- 07:12 – On what made the two of them work as Co-Hosts
- 10:14 – How did they evolve as a partnership
- 13:33 – When she left Carte Blanche, what was Derek’s view on that
- 14:44 – On staying in touch with Derek after leaving
- 16:22 – Derek’s final days
- 18:48 – What Derek’s life showed us
- 20:20 – Conclusions
The edited transcript of the interview with Ruda Landman on the passing of her long-time broadcast partner Derek Watts:
Alec Hogg: I had a fascinating interview earlier this week with John Webb, the executive producer at Carte Blanche during the second period of the show’s existence. The first period, the first 20 years of Carte Blanche, was the Ruda and Derek show or the Derek and Ruda show. Ruda is with us today. I told John that I was quite surprised at the outpouring of affection from the South African public to Derek Watts’s passing. I don’t know if it’s unprecedented, but it did tell us a lot – something that you’ve lived with since 1988, when you guys started together on Carte Blanche.
Ruda Landman: I’m always astonished by how many people still reach out to me. I left the show in 2007. So, 16 years later, people still approach me on the street. Fortunately, those who did not like you do not come and say hello, so it’s always a very good and warm experience. The second question they always ask me is how is Derek? We are absolutely linked in the public mind. It’s a very interesting phenomenon. But to see it in perspective, we must remember that when we started in 1988, exactly 35 years ago, our first show was on the 21st of August. At that point, we were the only actuality show in town apart from the SABC. Until 1986, South Africa only had one broadcaster, the SABC. In ’86, MNET got the first other license, and in ’88, we were the first actuality programme. The licence precluded news, which was defined as anything that happened in the previous 24 hours. But we could do actuality. So we were the first alternative voice for South Africans.
Coming from the SABC, where I worked in ’85 and ’86, there was a constant feeling of restriction. Can we say this? Are we allowed? Is this person allowed? And suddenly at MNET, there were no such restrictions. The constraints were commercial; you couldn’t insult certain parties when they had a deal going around South Africa. But at the SABC, there was this vague miasma of restrictions that you never really understood. So it was a completely different atmosphere.
Alec Hogg: The Voice of Freedom in many ways, I remember it well. What you were doing on MNET for those years from ’88, a dark period in South Africa’s history, was shining a very bright light. You never stopped that approach.
Ruda Landman: Well, you say it was a dark time, but even in ’88, the apartheid laws were shifting. The Group Areas Act was lifted soon after that, the Immorality Act too. There were social shifts. And then, just 18 months later, Mr. Mandela was released, and the country was on a national high for a decade. It was an amazing time. I always think of Wordsworth’s line about the French Revolution: “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven.” I always think being a journalist in South Africa at that time was absolutely amazing.
Alec Hogg: It was extraordinary. Yet the two of you seemed to have good chemistry right from the start, even though you came from very different backgrounds.
Ruda Landman: Alec, I’ve been thinking about this for the past few days. We never became close social friends, but from day one, there was this feeling that we brought different strengths. There was never competition or a question of who’s most important. We were so different, and that made it possible just to be. Derek was the most wonderful colleague to have in the studio, always prepared for things that could go wrong. I learned so much from him about being ready for live air. He was funny too, which always helped. There was never a struggle. We allowed each other to be who we were, and he always came to the party fully.
Alec Hogg: You two worked together as co-hosts for nearly 20 years. What was it about the two of you that made it work?
Ruda Landman: We were both committed to making it work. The platform was extraordinary, and we enjoyed the content immensely. Television is a team sport, and our entire team was fantastic. There was mutual support around the editorial table, a sense of unity that translated into the atmosphere in the studio. It was indeed a special time.
Alec Hogg: What about the executive producers of Carte Blanche, people like Bill Faure, George Mazerakis?
Ruda Landman: Well, there were a few in between. Bill started, and Susan Stoss assisted him as Bill was not detail-oriented. Susan, who came from the CBC, was the first one to help. Then Peter Cilliers took over, shaping the show’s format, focusing on personal stories and real people. Linda Vermaas succeeded Peter, being a calm, generous presence. George, arriving around 1994, emphasised hard news, adding a different angle.
Alec Hogg: So, it sounds like the program evolved. How did you and Derek evolve as individuals or as a partnership?
Ruda Landman: We all shaped each other, understanding our role in reflecting what the country was experiencing. We took our responsibility seriously. I initially thought it would be a short-term gig, but it turned into something much more. Experiences like traveling to Israel with Derek brought us closer together, helping each other make sense of complex situations and report back. Our differences were part of the program’s strength.
Alec Hogg: So it wasn’t hard deciding who would take which interview?
Ruda Landman: Rarely. Often in the editorials, we’d identify if something was a Derek story or a Ruda story. We had other members too, like Devi and Bongani, but initially, it was mainly us.
Alec Hogg: What did Derek think when you left?
Ruda Landman: I think he never fully understood. My life was changing, and I wanted to pursue something else. I needed to move on, especially as the country was entering what I saw as dark times. It was a very personal choice.
Alec Hogg: The Zuma era coincided with your departure, right?
Ruda Landman: Yes, it was 2007. We didn’t know what was coming, but it marked the beginning.
Alec Hogg: Did you and Derek remain in contact after that?
Ruda Landman: Yes, we kept in touch for a long time. We would have lunch during our birthday week; mine is the 18th of November and his is the 24th. We’d catch up on life and family. But lately, we hadn’t met much, partly due to COVID. However, when I heard he was ill, I went to see him in the hospital and at home about 10 days before he passed away. I’m so grateful I acted quickly; it’s a lesson for the future.
Alec Hogg: People would be comforted to know that Derek was with his family when he died. Was he at peace?
Ruda Landman: Yes, he was very aware of what was happening but still completely present. Liz Fish and I reminisced with him. He wasn’t fighting against his situation; he was at peace. His family, including his wife Belinda and his children Kersie and Tyrone, were very supportive.
Alec Hogg: The show seems to have been his life. Carte Blanche and Derek Watts seemed synonymous.
Ruda Landman: Indeed, being there for 35 years, it was half his life. The public outpouring of grief reflects this. When I heard the news, it felt like the ground fell away beneath me. It was so unexpected.
Alec Hogg: John Webb mentioned that Derek’s life illustrates being a decent person and having success. Can you add to that?
Ruda Landman: I agree with John. Derek had an attractive lightness to him. In our early years, during coaching with Kate Turkington, she described Derek’s approach as having “paddy paws but not letting go.” He was relentless but never an attack dog. He had a unique approach that worked for him.
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