More than Meets the Eye

Private Investigator Christian Botha will find whatever it is you are hiding.
By Matt Ramsden

How does an Umtata High School matriculant end up as the area’s most talked about private investigator just six months after first hitting the headlines?

CIGARETTE smoke swirling towards the ceiling, Botha leans back easily in his office chair and smiles as he recalls how he became a private investigator. Unlike scores of disenfranchised policemen looking for new avenues after leaving the service, Botha’s interest was sparked at home as a youngster in Transkei watching Mike Hammer, the American television series in which a PI scours the mean streets on behalf of mysterious clients. After matriculating from Umtata High School in 1986, Botha said the army requested his presence for two years, during which he became a dog handler.

After leaving the army, he landed a job working for the security division of Sun International and worked at casinos like Fish River, Amatola and Mdantsane. After rising through the ranks and uncovering a R35000 fraud at the Amatola Sun, Botha left for England in 1994 where his interest in private investigating was re-kindled. “I was reading a newspaper when I noticed a small advert for a private investigating training course being run by three former PIs,” he tells, almost as excited now as he was at the time.

Working by night and studying during the day, Botha found the course, which was based on the tutors’ own experiences, fascinating. As a guard at the plush Dolphin Square complex on London’s Embankment he came into contact with members of Her Majesty’s Protection Service who were keeping a keen eye on Princess Anne. Besides learning how to act in the presence of royalty, he managed to pick up tricks of the trade from bodyguards who are surveillance experts. A year later and £900 poorer, Botha graduated from the course to return to South Africa and put his newly gained skills to use.

For over two years he worked for a well-known Port Elizabeth private investigator on different cases, including trying to uncover insurance fraud where people had claimed cash for fictional illnesses or damages. Recalling the decision that eventually put him on the map, Botha adds: “I really learnt a lot, but it was time to try and make it on my own in East London.” After receiving a loan from a prominent businessman, he was up and running.

In February this year he contacted the Daily Dispatch with new information about a notorious killing that has remained unsolved despite strong evidence. A sworn affidavit was handed over and remains securely locked in a Daily Dispatch safe. It was not long before Botha hit the headlines when he tracked down and exposed a Liberian national who had duped East Londoners into buying fake American dollars. Even well-educated businessmen had been tricked into parting with cash in exchange for blank pieces of paper and mysterious chemicals. However glamorous it may sound, Botha says a lot of the work is painstakingly boring as he tries to glean information for clients. Not unlike the clichéd clients of movies who believe their spouses are being unfaithful, real-life PIs also have to tail errant husbands and unfaithful wives.

Sitting in a car, waiting, watching and recording details of the lives of people oblivious of the fact they are being watched is a day-to-day duty. Contacts are another essential for private investigators like Botha: someone within the legal system to find out details, someone in a hospital to make medical checks … the list is endless. Street-wise common sense is as vital a tool as any, as private investigators have to be able to get under the skin of people at all levels of society — from the beggar in the street who needs a few bucks for cigarettes to the businessman who has his own reasons for helping you. Botha was contacted last month by a European bank which needed his expertise in finding whether a Zambian businessman was legitimate.

For the father of two it was a step into the big time, an opportunity not be missed. He quickly put together a proposed itinerary, including costs, and sent it off. Before he could book his ticket, the bank told him they had received the information they needed about the businessman. Disappointed, Botha wrote it off to experience. “To think that a bank like that could get in touch and want me to travel to a foreign country is great. Although it didn’t work out, I am sure that they were impressed with the itinerary I sent them,” he says. Botha’s interest in the treatment and safety of children has led him to take on the cases of several runaways. He has scoured East London and Port Elizabeth trying to find Quigney teenager Shaun de Wet who ran away last year. Although he has not been able to locate him, he did come close two months ago when he arrived in a street where the youngster had been sleeping. “I will find Shaun and will bring him back to his parents.

“I have many people looking for him in Port Elizabeth and when I do get him, I’ll handcuff him so he can’t run away.” Clasping his hands, he smiles mysteriously when asked for details about the notorious case that he brought to the Daily Dispatch in February. “Well, I suppose you’ll have to watch the press,” he says with a wry grin.

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