After filming South Africa: Trouble in the Townships, Krishnan Guru-Murthy reflects on how undercover reporting has changed over the years.
The first time I did any secret filming - about twenty years ago - things were a bit different.We'd pack a rather heavy home video camera into a shoulder bag, cut a hole in it and carry it in whatever way looked the least suspicious. We'd tape up the camera buttons hoping they would not accidentally stop the camera filming, and try to stop the microphone brushing against the leather so the sound might just be useable. These days, for about the price of that old bag, you can set yourself up with secret cameras hidden in buttons, watches, hats and keyfobs.
They mostly come from China (and the instructions don't make much sense in their English translation) and compared to what we used to put up with, the video and sound quality is pretty stunning. So it was that we came to be filming Albert Satywetywe with a three camera secret filming shoot in a shopping mall in Johannesburg.
Once our undercover reporter had finished his meeting and filmed Albert asking for money, taking out the paperwork and explaining how it would work, it was my turn to confront him openly on camera. Trouble is a shopping mall is private property and we couldn't do it inside - so we had to wait for Albert to finish his shopping. Following him around with camera and microphone hidden, waiting to pounce while trying not to be spotted by either him or the host of security guards on duty at the mall was pretty comical.
Is he a bad man or a victim? It is quite easy to end up feeling sorry for almost everyone when you make a film like this. When I did confront Albert about what he had offered our undercover reporter on camera in exchange for cash it was clear he was no Mr Big. During our investigation I had seen his house myself - it was no mansion. Was it understandable that a man on a low salary, surrounded by corruption and the opportunity to get away with it was making a bit of money on the side for his own family?
He was by no means alone - while we were checking out his identity our South African researcher called around the local government offices posing as a resident. It didn't take long before she was offered a similar corrupt housing deal by another official who began with the apparently innocent line "Whatever he is helping you with I can help you with too".
A visit to Pretoria to talk to former finance minister Trevor Manuel who is now in charge of the South African planning commission put things in perspective. Corrupt officials, he reminded me, are stealing from the poor, exploiting desperation and breaking the very system that was supposed to treat everyone equally in South Africa. And in South Africa of all places that was supposed to mean something.