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FORMER top financial journalist Deon Basson who died at age 53 over the weekend of a heart attack was one of countless South Africans who faced a life-long battle against mental disease.

At the time of his death, Basson was facing his own battle against the stigma of bipolar depression while defending a defamation court action instituted by property investment group Sharemax over articles he had written.

The six-time Sanlam financial journalist-of-the-year award winner was an example of how mental illness is often held against people in their professional lives.

Writing in Insig, fellow journalist Piet Schoombee related how Basson was never allowed to forget his chronic illness.

“Deon Basson – luminary or loony?” was often compared with a rabies-infected dog, suffering from schizophrenia, in an e-mail which had been sent out by the Tigon company at a time when Basson investigated its financial dealings.

“Today, Tigon’s Gary Porritt is awaiting trial while Jack Milne, who was linked with Tigon, had been sent to prison.”

In an extract from a Sharemax court document, Sharemax marketing director Andre Brand asks whether Basson “suffers from a medical condition for which he does not take his medication as prescribed”.

However, despite his diagnosis while still a student, Basson studied public administration and accounting at the University of the Free State, the University of Pretoria and Unisa.

He worked at Sake-Rapport and moved to Finansies & Tegniek (to- day Finweek), where he became editor in 1996.

Later he moved to the Financial Mail and Société Générale Frankel Pollak, where he worked as an analyst.

In June 2006 he left journalism and concentrated on writing books based on his years of research, and was also honorary professor of auditing at the University of Pretoria.

East London Rehab director Zininzi Mpurwana says unlike Basson many mentally disabled people, who recover as a result of psychiatric treatment and medication, still experience difficulties in obtaining ordinary jobs.

Mpurwana says Rehab, which celebrates September as mental disability awareness month, offers mentally disabled people access to education and job training.

“We also concentrate on the social aspect of their lives to get them back into society.”

Rehab awareness co-ordinator Michaela Lawrence says it is a long process. She says Rehab offers a six months’ voluntary programme to empower people.

Both Mpurwana and Lawrence agree that ignorance about mental illnesses remains a stumbling block facing mentally ill and disabled people to make inroads into the job market.