David Klatzow


For justice to prevail, the application of maths, physics, pathology and chemistry needs to be applied. Methodically and meticulously, evidence must be analysed for the truth to be told. As a leading Forensic Scientist in South Africa, David Klatzow reveals his honest truth with us here:

David Klatzow,  Definition Of Success | Success means to me, the acquisition of knowledge, to be used to assist your fellow man, to make everybody’s life a little easier.  This has always been my idea of success.  It has always been my idea that one should become as proficient in your chosen field of study as possible and that your acquisition of knowledge should be eclectic and should never cease.

I Am Driven By | The thing that drives me is an insatiable thirst for knowledge.  I enjoy obtaining knowledge about almost everything in my field and often it is slightly peripheral to my field but it is surprising how often that becomes quite useful in dealing with a case from a slightly different angle.

My Highlights | The highlights of my life and career that make me proud are the fact that during the 1980’s I was the sole forensic scientist speaking out against the police atrocities against the citizens of this country.  There was round detraction of my work by the state, the government, the magistrates and by the prosecutors.  When the TRC came along it became apparent that my evidence was correct at the time and many of the perpetrators came forward to admit to the crimes which I had identified them as having committed.

The Difference Between Good And Great | The difference between people who are good at what they do and people who are great at what they do is passion.  You have to be able to make your career part of your life, part of your entertainment; it must be your hobby as well as your career and if you can do that you will a) enjoy it, it will be one long entertainment session for you and b) you will get better and better at it because you do not object to spending time improving at it.  If you are doing a mere job, you begrudge the time that you spending working rather than enjoying that time and making better use of it.

A Key Talent | The talent that I have which I think has been most useful to me is to see an overview of a particular problem and to be able to work out the step to solve it.  Often people can see detail without seeing the overall pattern and quite often it is that ability to see the overall pattern in the long term which enables you to plot the way forward.  This is difficult to explain how to do because it is something you either see or you do not.  People who look at a painting will often see only the detail, others will see the entire picture.  I think my great fortune and good luck was to be able to see a big chunk of the painting as a whole and then to be able to focus in on the techniques that enabled you to produce that and to understand how the case can be brought forward.

The Characteristics Of Success | I am not sure what are the key characteristics but certainly determination, doggedness, curiosity, persistence, a thick skin, a willingness to admit that I am wrong when I am wrong and a commitment to the truth are all things that have made it possible for me to survive in this highly competitive and destructive field for now 32 years.

Principles I Live By | The principles and values that I believe are important could not be better stated than those said by John Steinbeck through the mouth of Ed Ricketts in his book “Cannery Row” and that is a quote which goes as follows:  “I love true things, even if they hurt.”  It is important to follow the truth or to try and get as close to the truth as it is possible to get, realising that you will never get all the way there but persisting in your quest to the top of that mountain of truth.

Critical Skills I Develop | The critical skills that I have used and worked on are again enshrined in the previous paragraphs that are effectively an eclectic thirst for knowledge and an ability to synthesize that knowledge, putting it all together in one coherent whole which is useful in a) understanding forensic problems, and b) allowing one to cross borders between subjects such as medicine, law, science, chemistry and physics in order to understand how they interact and are able to make a fuller use of the subject by virtue of that ability.

How I Use My Mind | There is no particular way in I do it.  One treats each case according to its own merits and one uses the principles of basic science applied honestly and doggedly to solve the problem.  One keeps on and one does in particular go further than the case needs.  No case has ever been lost by doing too much work on it.  In the same way, no war has ever been lost by having two bullets too many.  There have been many wars that have lost by having one bullet too few.

Lessons I Have Learnt | One of the most important lessons I learnt was from my mentor, Prof Jack Allan who taught me anatomy at medical school many years ago.  He was going to do an operation on a little girl one evening (he was by then a senior lecturer in Anatomy) who had a shard of glass stuck into her foot.  He came via the lab where I was working and said he could not see us that evening because he had to go into the dissection lab just to remind himself and check on his anatomy so that he did not make a mistake when he performed the operation later that evening.  This is a lesson that stayed with me my whole life and I am never frightened to admit that if I do not know something, I am never frightened to go back and check on what I do know.

Dealing With Doubt | Treating self-doubt, fear or negativity – I normally treat it with a contempt it deserves.  If you are honest and if you approach your subject with information which you have gleaned from the literature, from the empirical data at hand then it there is no point in having negativity.  One can be nervous about the outcome of a case but certainly negativity is a very destructive emotion.

Performing At My Peak | You are never always performing at your peak.  You do your best and quite often if I am having bad day, I give up and go fishing.  I then try and start again the next day.  Generally, I also try and start by doing something small and easy so that success breeds success.  Do not start with something big when you have had major mess.  Start at the beginning and do little things which will build you up again.

Resources I Use To Stay Inspired | The most important resources for me are the internet, the library and I use my own extensive collection of reference books in order to keep myself inspired and growing.  I also read very extensively in and around the philosophy of science so that I understand the basis of the theory of knowledge – the epistemology of what I am saying. .

My Future Dreams And Ambitions | I would like at the end of my career for people to say that he did some good.  If that can be said with the overall effect of my having lived was to have written something worthwhile in the great ledger of life, I will be quite happy.

The Meaning Of Life | I am generally quite happy and content; everybody has ups and downs but generally speaking I am a happy individual and I have managed to, as I have said, be entertained by my career, my family and my friends for 67 years.

The Best Advice I’ve Received | The best advice I have ever received is advice which I generated really for myself in the onset of my career:  Never become beholden to anybody, financially, emotionally or any other way in your career.  It is important for making certain that you aim for the truth irrespective of for whom you are doing the investigation.  Even if the truth exonerates somebody that you do not like, it is important that that truth be told.

Advice On Building Wealth | I have no practical advice for somebody who wants to grow rich and build wealth because I consider that a very shallow ambition.  I have never thought about it.

On Inspiring Others | I have found that a lone furrow is best for me.  I do not work with people well and that might be one of my major shortcomings.

I Am Inspired By | My role models in life were many:

My English teachers at school, Dr Gevers and Miss Jean Cameron
The district surgeon of Standerton, Dr De Villiers
The professor of anatomy, Dr Jack Allan
My mother
And my wife

The Legacy I Would Like To Leave | Something useful in the great ledger of life

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