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By Gum, It Can Weave a Deceitful Web

12 Jan 2009

By Eddie Botha

Old timers, such as me, still believe we should look each other in the eye when doing business. This is not the way the wide world of the web operates. Banking, travel bookings, tax returns … everything can be done from the keyboard of your laptop.

That's why Niek Venter, a local medical doctor, accessed the Gumtree Internet site to find a flat in Johannesburg for his daughter. In response Zoe Hodgson, whom Venter believed was a letting agent, contacted him on December 3. The same day he received a lease agreement to rent a cottage, which he signed and faxed back to Hodgson.

Venter paid the R2900 deposit, which was transferred – at Hodgson's request – into the Nedbank account of Brian Arrow. On December 23 another R2900, January's rent, was also transferred into Arrow's account.

On January 3 Venter called Hodgson to arrange for the keys of the cottage.

"She told me that the cottage had been let to a third party and due to the lack of funds she was not able to refund me."

Venter gave me all the correspondence, including the lease and bank transfers.

On January 4 an irate Venter e-mailed to Hodgson that "our relationship took a very bad turn …" Unsuccessful in getting back the R5800 she owed him, he has now handed the matter over to the police, wrote Venter.

The next day Hodgson replied by SMS: "I had no ill intention whatsoever regarding this transaction. Just to put you in the picture, during this time I've been hospitalised for 2 weeks so I didn't work at all as I had a psychotic & emotional breakdown & was admitted 2 the crescent clinic in Randburg 4 2 weeks, diagnosed with bipolar disorder & am on chronic medication now. I am happy 2 supply my psychiatrist's details 2 you if u wish…"

I tried, to no avail, to contact Artour Makhtsiev, the owner of the cottage, as well as Gumtree, for their comment.

Artour Makhtsiev, the owner? Yes, Brian Arrow, to whose bank account the deposit and first month's rental had been transferred to, is Hodgson's boyfriend!

I spoke to Hodgson after she responded to my SMS. She made it clear, right from the start that she was not a letting agent, as Venter had believed. She is just a "go- between, helping people renting", she said.

Well, if I approached Gumtree, and in response was contacted by someone who arranged the rental, I, too, would have thought that I was dealing with a Gumtree agent.

Be that as it may, Hodgson is adamant she told Venter that he would get his money on January 26, a claim which he denies.

As a matter of fact Venter says that Makhtsiev explained to him that the reason why the cottage had been let to someone else, was because Hodgson did not pay the money into his account. That much we know. It went into her boyfriend's account.

Hodgson does not dispute this. But she maintains that Venter will be refunded. She blames her illness for the financial predicament she finds herself in. For two weeks, while being hospitalised in the Crescent Clinic, she had no income and only started working again recently.

Hodgson says her nervous breakdown and mental condition only occurred during the time she was negotiating the rental contract with Venter. She is now on constant medication. To prove her point, Hodgson gave me the name of her psychiatrist.
Here I have a problem with her story. The aim of former US first lady Rosalynn Carter's fellowship for mental health journalism, which I received last year, is to destigmatise mental illnesses.

Hodgson should know that her psychiatrist would not divulge doctor-patient information to me. If indeed she had been diagnosed as being bipolar (I don't dispute it), it would have been the prudent thing to send her psychiatrist's medical report to Venter, who as a medical doctor would have had an understanding for her problem.

Hodgson says she's under medical treatment and well enough to work again. But, according to Venter, she has made no arrangement to repay him. Not even a doctor's report.

This, unfortunately, is one example of why there is a stigma attached to mental illness.

Copyright 2009. Used with permission from Eddie Botha and The Daily Dispatch.

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