Consumer rights champion Isabel Jones dead at 72

Consumer rights champion Isabel Jones died in the early hours of March 11, said her son Adam Jones.

Described at one time as all that stood between South Africans and high prices, Jones underwent heart surgery in November and made a full recovery, her son said.

She was admitted to the Morningside Clinic’s intensive-care unit with breathing problems on Friday and was found to have a lung infection.

Her body did not respond positively to treatment and it was “downhill from there”, he said. She died at 4am.

Thanking hospital staff, Jones said they did “everything in their power” to save his mother’s life.

Jones, who was born in London, came to South Africa more than 20 years ago, started off as a food journalist, but soon moved into consumerism—a task she “took very seriously”.

This might have made her life scary, but ensured her children lived a unique and exciting “adventure”, said her son.

She was a “great mother” with amazing drive and passion for everything she did.

While the rest of the world saw her tough image, he, his sister Sarah Wharton-Hood, their father Barry, and her grandchildren Joshua, Hannah, Emily and Beatrice were able to see her warmth.

Asked his mother’s age at the time of her death, Jones said: “I can’t tell you that.”

“For her it was the equivalent of a state secret.
She would still kill me if I told you,” he said, adding that she was merely “mature”.

However, it is understood that Jones was born on May 31 1935 and was 72-years-old.

Jones did not let her age interfere with her work, sitting as recently as February 27 at a hearing of the Gauteng Consumer Affairs Court, of which she was a member.

Jones was best known to the South African public for her fight for consumer rights on the SABC3’s Fair Deal.

“She was absolutely fearless,” one of her agents, Stuart Lee, chief executive of Famous Faces Management, said on Tuesday.

“She would take nonsense from nobody. She would take untruths from nobody,” he said, adding that she was respected even by those she criticised.

However, her credibility took a knock when she started appearing in infomercials.

“She changed from being a ‘guardian of the consuming society’ to a cheerleader of products,” charged Kuzwayo Advertising head Muzi Kuzwayo in the Rhodes Journalism Review.

Rhodes University lecturer Douglas Mitchell, told the Mail and Guardian Online: “How could anyone who’s seen her Bauer Pro-Cookware infomercial take her seriously as a journalist? I know I can’t.

” ... As a consumer journalist, she’s damaged goods,” he said.

Responding to her detractors in an interview on M-Net’s Carte Blanche about her endorsement of a weight-loss product, Jones acknowledged their concerns, but explained that she really did not “want to be destitute in my old age with a little placard around my neck at a traffic light”.

In 2002, the Direct Marketing Association gave her a special award acknowledging that while participating in infomercials, she had “retained her independence as a consumer champion”.

She also received a Department of Trade and Industry Award for Consumer Champions in 2007.

At the time, she chaired the short-term insurance ombudsman board of directors, was a member of the long-term insurance ombudsman council and a member of the advisory committee to the government on short-term insurance.

She also served as vice-chairperson of the Financial Services Board consumer advisory panel and the credit information ombudsman’s council, and was a member of the motor industry ombudsman’s council.

Jones was still there for the public, joining Talk Radio 702 in 1998, where she presented the consumer, food, wine, books and motoring programme Isabel Jones Live. - Sapa

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