South Africa’s best investigative financial journalist has nailed his last crook. Deon Basson’s body gave up on him this morning. He would have turned 54 in December.
Basson’s wife Celia says he woke up this morning battling for air. The Netcare 911 paramedics she called arrived outside the house just as Basson passed on, complaining to her that “I can’t breathe”. Celia puts his death partly down to his medication (which had caused him to put on weight). And also to stress caused by a self-financed court defence against controversial property development company Sharemax, which is trying to prevent the publication of certain chapters in Basson’s book “Public Interest Warriors”.
“At least someone will be happy he has gone,” she said, referring to Sharemax MD Willie Botha.
For most in South Africa’s business community, however, Basson will be sorely missed. He was an investigative journalist without peer. Courageous and dogged almost to a fault, opponents found getting him off the scent was more difficult than prizing a meaty bone from the jaws of a bull mastiff.
After becoming the Sanlam financial reporter of the year overall winner a record sixth time in 2002, he promptly retired from the competition to give the rest of us a chance. Among his more famous scalps were once impregnable SA Rugby Boss Louis Luyt; Tigon’s chief executive Gary Porritt; the R250-million PSC Growth Fund thief Jack Milne and, along with Moneyweb’s Barry Sergeant, modern day mining robber baron Brett Kebble.
An independent thinker to the last, Basson was sore at the Naspers Group which he felt had abandoned him in his hour of need. This revolved around Basson’s battle against Sharemax, a property company that elicits investments from the public. Sharemax is in the process of suing Basson in a personal capacity for articles published in Naspers publications. Unusually, Naspers has not been joined in the action, nor offered to assist in Basson’s defence.
Such was the salt of the man that despite his modest resources, he refused to bow to this pressure and was determined to have his day in court against Sharemax. For the past couple of years Basson had temporarily retired from journalism to concentrate on the legal matter. But he told me a fortnight ago that with the case well prepared, he was now ready to relaunch his journalistic career.
Among his first assignments was to be an analysis for Moneyweb, both written and on the radio, of Sanlam’s interim results released on September 4. Apart from his investigative journalism skills, Basson was one of the most insightful analysts, especially of financial services companies. He had spent time as the insurance analyst for Societe Generale.
Basson was forced to postpone his planned comeback because he was feeling ill. But he had recovered sufficiently by last week to set up a tentative appointment to meet in the next few days. Unfortunately he won’t be keeping his court date either.
What was uncovered during Basson’s last investigations won’t die with him. Over the past few weeks he had sent me a “sneak preview” of his soon to be published book, “Public Interest Warriors”. Its disclosures will reverberate loudly. Deon would have chuckled at being able to reach out at his enemies from the grave.
Born in Vereeniging as Gideon Johannes Basson, he achieved distinctions in four subjects (Maths, Science, Accounting and History) in his matric year at Ermelo High School. Tertiary education was conducted at the Free State University; Pretoria University and Unisa. A useful tennis player in his youth, Basson’s true love was rugby and, especially, the Free State provincial side.
He was married for 28 years to Celia (nee’ Schurink) and is survived by her and three children, Gideon (25), Sybil (23) and Cecile (21). Sybil is the cover designer and layout artist of “Public Interest Warriors”. Basson’s work is restored for posterity at href=”//www.deonbasson.co.za/” target=_blank mce_href=”//www.deonbasson.co.za/”//www.deonbasson.co.za/.
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