Interview with Ruda Landman


Ruda Landman is regarded as one of South Africa's most respected television journalists and has co-anchored Carte Blanche for close to 20 years.


For someone who never intended to become a journalist, Ruda Landman , undisputedly left deep footprints in the world of television journalism. I find out what it was like to walk in her shoes as an esteemed co-anchor of South Africa's investigative journalism programme, Carte Blance, before she left some big shoes to fill. She speaks about life-threatening situations, fascinating personalities such as Nobel Peace Prize winner, Nelson Mandela, as well as the challenges and rewards of working in the television journalism industry.


Background and Introduction into Journalism


Landman grew up in the Northern Cape province in South Africa and studied languages at the University of Stellenboch. She says that no one inspired her to become a journalist. “I had a degree in languages and a teaching diploma, and I did not want to teach, so I went looking for a job. A newspaper hired me,” she explains.


She later moved on to radio and magazines and in August 1988 she joined the Carte Blanche team as co-anchor where she emerged as one of South Africa's most prominent television personalities.


When asked what elements of television she enjoys most compared to other media she responded that radio and tv are direct media where you put the case study/expert/whoever directly on camera, or record his/her voice. "In print, the journalist cannot but come between the reader and the material, only the very best writers can give a real idea of the person they spoke to," she explains.


Life Threatening Situations and Emotional Composure


Landman has been in life-threatening situations twice, once in Rwanda, returning from a visit to the gorillas in May 1993, and once in Mogadishu, also in 1993. “In both cases it was general mayhem, not aimed at us. I have never seen as many guns and RPGs as in Mogadishu,” she recounts. She says that in such situations you try to keep calm and rely on the advice of people who know the situation to help you do the sensible thing. “In Rwanda, at a road block in the middle of the night, I deliberately started crying, hoping to generate sympathy.” She emphasizes that it was an extremely bad idea.


In order to keep your composure in front of the camera Landman says that you learn, like doctors or psychologists, to distance yourself to some extent. However, she believes that it is sometimes healthy to show how you feel, “to burst into tears or to get really angry – healthy for yourself, for the person involved (a little girl who had been put to work as a prostitute; a middle-aged man sodomised in a holding cell), and for the audience, because it validates what they feel.”


Fascinating Personalities


Over the course of almost two decades with Carte Blanche , Landman has had the privilege of interviewing many captivating people such as former South African president, Nelson Mandela. “I only met him very briefly on two occasions. In one case, I asked if prison had left one over-riding feeling with him. Yes, he said. Gratitude for time to think and to learn.”


On the other end of the spectrum is Jackie Maarohanye, who Landman says would keep a psychiatrist busy for weeks. “We called her The Angel of Soweto but she turned out to be not angelic at all.” Maarohanye set up a school for victims of abuse in order to receive money from well-intentioned donors but it was later revealed that the victims were lying about the abuse and were prompted by Maarohanye.


Investigative Journalism and Feeling Proud


Landman admits that investigative journalism is not her favourite thing. “I like it much better to present information and emotion to the viewers, usually through the experience of case studies, so that they are forced to think about it and make up their own minds, she explains. She says in the early nineties they did two stories about land reform which were like that and in 2004 one on the Israel Wall. “In both cases I think the audience really understood something more about the situation after the story, and the answer wasn’t simple. That makes me proud,” she reveals.


She says that one of the most difficult stories on an emotional level was the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) as it affected her view of herself and her people. “I had to deal with a lot of information I would really rather not have had. On the other hand, it changed me forever, making me South African in a way I would not otherwise have been,” she explains.


Becoming a Successful Television Journalist


Even though Carte Blanche has won more than a 100 local and international awards for outstanding journalism, Landman says was never very award-conscious. “You know when you do good work and when you should be ashamed of yourself,” she states.


Her advice for aspiring journalists can be summed up by Margot Fonteyn who said: “The one important thing I have learned over the years is the difference between taking one's work seriously and taking one's self seriously. The first is imperative and the second is disastrous.”


In addition Landman advices journalists to focus on the job. "Be careful and precise. Take your job seriously. You shape your audience’s experience of the world. And lastly - Enjoy it!"


Landman regards the exposure to other people’s lives and worlds as the most rewarding aspect of having worked at Carte Blanche . “We all live in our own little boxes, choosing our friends because they are like us. Journalism forces you out of that. Also – it was really rewarding to be part of such a solid, good programme, finding over the years that people trusted you and accepted you as part of their lives.”


Since Landman resigned from Carte Blance in 2007 she has had time to do other important things such as to make cd's with children's stories for kids in hospital. She is also a director of Media24 and works as a freelance journalist, MC and facilitator.