Derek Watts, in-studio presenter on Carte Blanche. Picture: Supplied

Derek Watts, Devi Sankaree Govender and the rest of the "Carte Blanche" team of hard hitting journalists celebrate 31 years of being on air this month. 

The news show is synonymous for looking into solutions for South Africa’s embattled economy and other issues. 

Over the years the show has seen presenters come and go, but one of the shows original presenters, Derek Watts is still on air. 

We chatted to Derek Watts about his time on the show and its success.  

It's a proud moment. How do you feel? 

When I think of how we started  in a rented studio with a DJ and interviews with actresses from the James Bond movies, it is staggering to think what "Carte Blanche" has achieved and the impact we have had in more than three decades. 

Extremely proud to work with such an incredible team and all the people who have left their mark on the show over the years.

Do you remember your first day?

I was a sports reporter in a new environment and partnered with Ruda Landman who was a powerful figure in the journalistic world. So it was daunting. Our first award was for a story where Ruda and I went into Alexandra Township and spent a few days seeing how the people lived, worked, brought up families and maybe relaxed in the shebeen at night. It dawned on me that this had never been shown on South African television before. The national broadcaster at that stage would only hold a debate about the conditions. We did have something real and important to offer our viewers.

What was the most impactful story you covered?

Many flash back occasionally – like standing at a deserted Mount Everest base camp, boarding the atomic aircraft carrier George Washington during the Gulf War as jet fighters thumped down on the deck and visiting Elon Musk’s Spacex rocket factory in Los Angeles before the first Falcon flew, but a recurrent memory was the death of intrepid conservationist Rick Lomba. Sadly killed by a tiger as we removed starving animals from the Luanda Zoo to take them to a better life in South Africa.

What is the highlight of your career on TV/on the show?

It’s a question I’ve been asked quite a few times. And I think I give a different answer every time. Right now I’d say meeting up with Mark Shuttleworth at Star City in Moscow and trying out the ageing equipment used to train cosmonauts during the space race. 

Then flying in the Military jets with all the space programme Generals to Baikonur in Kazakhstan where we spent a week in quarantine and went through all the crazy pre-launch rituals like placing coins on the railway line as the Soyuz rocket arrives on a train. 

Then being with Mark suiting up with the other two cosmonauts and joining them on the bus trip to the steaming spaceship and watching the lift-off from close quarters. Finally getting back to the Carte Blanche studio where I joined Madiba chatting to Mark as he circled the earth in the ISS and performed some amazing somersaults and juggling tricks.

What do you think makes the show successful?  

We started out with CBS "60 Minutes" on board and with their world leading journalism and anchors like the late Mike Wallace we had to lift our game… albeit on a tiny budget. We did show telling and emotional aspects of the changes and conflict leading up to democracy but we were probably more entertainment based. 

Then along came George Mazarakis as Executive Producer who really established "Carte Blanche" as primarily specialising in investigative reporting which has become our trademark. 

All in all, we’ve moved with the amazing changes of the past three decades and tried to reflect them in an honest and hard hitting manner where the guilty are brought to book and those working towards a better future are given their place in the sun. And M-Net has had the courage to support us through some hectic investigations and given us the freedom to search for the truth as we see it.

* "Carte Blanche" airs every Sunday on M-Net (DStv 101) at 7pm.

** This story has been selected as study material for the National High Schools Quiz final. For more stories click here.