Gona mur­der: trio in court

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A R1.5 MIL­LION apart­ment over­look­ing the ocean at eManz­im­toti is what re­tired school prin­ci­pal Gona Pil­lay could not stop talk­ing about in re­cent weeks.

The 63-year-old was “ex­cited” about the planned move this week­end and of dec­o­rat­ing the flat af­ter decades liv­ing in a large dou­ble­storey house in Sil­ver­glen.

The sale had gone through and she was happy when she re­ceived the ti­tle deed two weeks ago.

But Pil­lay never got to move af­ter she was throt­tled and stabbed to death in the house last Wed­nes­day, ap­par­ently by a group of men who posed as wealthy would-be buy­ers.

As the men ate cake, bought jfor the oc­ca­sion, it is al­leged they pulled out knives and re­peat­edly stabbed Pil­lay and her be­wil­dered hus­band Loga.

Over­pow­ered, he played dead as the killers ran­sacked the house and made off with their be­long­ings, in­clud­ing their Mercedes-Benz. When a neigh­bour ar­rived on the scene, Loga whis­pered to the man the iden­tity of one of the at­tack­ers, POST has es­tab­lished.

Three men – Pam Gold­ing Prop­er­ties in­tern Lun­gani Basil Un­der­hill, 24, his cousin Brave­man Un­der­hill, 23, and Fred Boy Msomi, 30, – ap­peared in the Chatsworth Mag­is­trate’s Court on Tues­day in con­nec­tion with the at­tack.

They were not asked to plead and were re­manded in cus­tody.

Out­side court, com­mu­nity mem­bers staged a plac­ard protest, urg­ing the court to deny them bail.

“We have gath­ered at the court as a com­mu­nity to show sup­port to the Pil­lay fam­ily but also for all other vic­tims of such crimes,” said com­mu­nity ac­tivist Bran­don Pil­lay. On Sun­day Loga Pil­lay left his ICU hospi­tal bed and sat be­side his wife’s cof­fin dur­ing the fu­neral ser­vice at SCDIFA Hall. Speaker af­ter speaker spoke fondly of their mem­o­ries of Gona and her ster­ling ca­reer as an ed­u­ca­tor. But it was her eldest son Abise­shen, who took the podium at the end, who pro­vided a deeper in­sight into her as a car­ing mother and com­mu­nity ac­tivist.

To the world, he said, Gona was a prin­ci­pal, ed­u­ca­tor and hu­man­i­tar­ian. But to her three chil­dren, she was a mother whose “pos­i­tive energy” lit up their lives.

De­liv­er­ing a tear­ful eu­logy, Abise­shen said the love for her chil­dren – him, his brother Dha­so­gan and sis­ter Tha­mona – was bound­less.

“She man­aged to un­der­stand each of her chil­dren. She knew what our strengths were and how to bring out the best in us. She tried to keep up to date with the lat­est de­tails in our age group as we grew up, just so that she could re­late to us, she was al­ways rel­e­vant.”

The re­tired South­lands Sec­ondary School prin­ci­pal, he said, had known how im­por­tant it was to help those less for­tu­nate.

“She of­ten took part in feed­ing the needy, un­der­stand­ing that no learn­ing could take place on an empty stom­ach, al­ways stress­ing on the im­por­tance of Seva, the act of serv­ing oth­ers.” He said Gona was the “mum that you asked to iron your shirt, mum that you asked to cook your favourite curry, mum that you would ask to rub your head.”

HUN­DREDS of mourn­ers packed the SCDIFA Hall in Sil­ver­glen for the fu­neral of slain South­lands Sec­ondary School prin­ci­pal Gona Pil­lay on Sun­day.

Those who had known her spoke fondly of an ed­u­ca­tion­ist who had left an in­deli­ble im­print in the heart and minds of thou­sands of her for­mer pupils and col­leagues.

Madu­ray Moodley, a cousin of Pil­lay’s and a re­tired chief di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tion, said Pil­lay was an ex­cel­lent ad­min­is­tra­tor and plan­ner in ed­u­ca­tion.

“When she took over as act­ing prin­ci­pal about 17 years ago at South­lands, she grew by leaps and bounds in terms of ad­min­is­tra­tion, con­trol man­age­ment and in try­ing to run that school.

“She worked with the three pil­lars of ed­u­ca­tion:

“The chil­dren, for whom she had a great love and ad­mi­ra­tion. She men­tored them, saw to per­sonal in­ter­ests and she made sure she knew ev­ery child.

“She worked with teach­ers, she got the teach­ers to also work with ex­cel­lence so that those chil­dren could re­ally ben­e­fit from ed­u­ca­tion. “The school gov­ern­ing body. She co­erced the three into one. Then she got the peo­ple to look at one agenda, and that is the up­lift­ment of the chil­dren.

“She turned that school into some­thing un­be­liev­able, par­tic­u­lar­ity in the time when we had democ­racy, and then we had the de­part­ment putting very lit­tle ef­fort into the ex-In­dian schools be­cause they had a back­log in terms of black ed­u­ca­tion.

“So In­dian ed­u­ca­tion did not re­ceive much sup­port and what was hap­pen­ing then was most of the chil­dren from the In­dian schools were grav­i­tat­ing to­wards ex-Model C schools due to lack of re­sources.

“But she made sure that there were suf­fi­cient re­sources, teach­ers were geared to up­lift­ing the chil­dren and the gov­ern­ing body worked to­gether, with the re­sult that she was able to com­pete on an even keel with ex-Model C schools.

“Her school stood out – so much so that she was in­un­dated with ad­mis­sions to the school.”

The other re­mark­able thing about Pil­lay, Moodley said, was her mon­i­tor­ing and men­tor­ing of ex-pupils. “That is some­thing we never saw in any other per­son.

“I lost a cousin, Logs lost a wife, the chil­dren lost a mother, but I think the coun­try lost a great men­tor, a great ed­u­ca­tion­ist, a per­son so ded­i­cated.”

Ac­u­men

Pil­lay hailed from Umz­into and had qual­i­fied as a teacher, spe­cial­is­ing in ge­og­ra­phy.

“It was at South­lands Sec­ondary that her man­age­ment and ad­min­is­tra­tive ac­u­men blos­somed when she took over the reins as act­ing prin­ci­pal, soon to be ap­pointed per­ma­nent head of the school,” Moodley said.

He de­scribed her hus­band, Loga, as an ac­com­plished sci­ence teacher who had writ­ten many sci­ence books at the se­nior pri­mary and sec­ondary level.

“Gona sup­ported him in the pur­suit of this dream, which he con­tin­ued to un­der­take in his re­tire­ment.”

For­mer South­lands head pre­fect in 2008, Greshen Naidoo, who is now an at­tor­ney, de­scribed Pil­lay as a vi­sion­ary.

“She had the in­nate abil­ity of see­ing the po­ten­tial in each stu­dent. I was for­tu­nate as a stu­dent to work along­side her in tak­ing the school for­ward to achieve its ob­jec­tives.

“She told me to be an all­rounder and ex­cel at aca­demic, sports and com­mu­nity achieve­ments at school.

“She had won­drous lead­er­ship skills and I had a first-class seat watching her un­lock the school’s po­ten­tial. Al­most ev­ery week there would be ar­ti­cles in the news­pa­per show­cas­ing the school’s achieve­ments.

“She was a strong, dy­namic hu­man be­ing and was a role model, es­pe­cially for women. She left an in­deli­ble im­print on our hearts and minds.”

An­other ex-pupil, Shivani Poovalingam, said Pil­lay was a great role model in so­ci­ety. “As a prin­ci­pal, she was a great leader who in­stilled im­por­tant val­ues in pupils and staff mem­bers, like dis­ci­pline, the will to suc­ceed, pos­i­tiv­ity and de­ter­mi­na­tion.

“She took a strong in­ter­est in pupils’ per­sonal growth and en­cour­aged them to ex­cel aca­dem­i­cally as well as in ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties. She was a con­fi­dent leader who will be missed by so many and never for­got­ten.”

For­mer South­lands teacher Ranie Naidoo, who is now teach­ing in Abu Dhabi, said:

“Her vi­sion was to put our school on the map, and that she cer­tainly did. She taught me to over­come my chal­lenges in life and to strive harder to achieve my goals. At South­lands we were a fam­ily and Gona would make the time to see me and chat with me on any mat­ter at hand.

“She was al­ways will­ing to of­fer me as­sis­tance in any way she could – she al­ways had the best ad­vice to of­fer.

Courage

“She gave me the courage and strength to move for­ward in life and strive for greater heights. I spent 22 years at South­lands, of which 10 years was with her as my prin­ci­pal, a leader in the true sense of the word. Bid­ding her farewell is the hard­est thing I have had to do – and from the other end of world,” said Naidoo.

Hun­dreds of peo­ple shared their mem­o­ries of Pil­lay on Facebook. For­mer pupil Videshni Naidoo Singh posted: “You helped to harness our lead­er­ship and our ex­cel­lence in pro­fes­sions, in busi­ness, in com­mu­ni­ties be­yond our own.

“You taught hu­mil­ity, spir­i­tu­al­ity and devo­tion to all our causes be­yond the ones we learnt at school.

“You made us re­silient to per­sonal at­tacks and taught for­ti­tude and strength – and in all of this I still can’t find the words to say ex­actly what you meant to me.

“We live by the in­flu­ence of the peo­ple who shaped our des­tiny, we live by the soft­ness they prac­tise in their teach­ing. We gain by be­ing touched by an­gels who are ed­u­ca­tors. At South­lands we can give grat­i­tude for be­ing in­flu­enced by the best, but you led that, Mrs G Pil­lay, and you can rest well, know­ing that you gave us your best.

“Your in­flu­ence raised a com­mu­nity, a na­tion and is felt now in all cor­ners of the Earth. Who knows how much pain you took away from this world?

“If the world has ben­e­fit­ted from women who are the great­est lead­ers, I salute you Mrs G Pil­lay, along with your hus­band and three chil­dren who have shared you, for be­ing among the best.

“Many of us won’t be there (at the fu­neral) to­day but we are no doubt in mourn­ing, and for you we will share this can­dle for be­ing touched by the light that you rep­re­sent. “Mrs Pil­lay, Hamba kahle, may Lord Shiva and Lord Yama wel­come the new­est an­gel among the rest.”

Ma­gash­nee Chetty: “This is so sad, hon­estly hard to come to terms with… she was such an amaz­ing per­son, al­ways pos­i­tive, shar­ing mo­ti­va­tion. Last month we met af­ter ages. She spoke to my son who is now at South­lands in Grade 8… like a grand­par­ent, mo­ti­vat­ing him, telling him and in­sist­ing I bring him to her home.

“She wanted to spend time with him. Her words were: ‘I have knowl­edge I want to share my knowl­edge.’ A beau­ti­ful soul… will surely miss her dearly.”

Poob­ha­lan Pil­lay, emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of KwaZulu-Natal, said Pil­lay had taught his chil­dren at South­lands.

“I have of­ten quoted her as an ex­am­ple of a true leader, the prin­ci­pal of a school who can turn things around.

“That school is quite dif­fer­ent from other schools in Chatsworth. The dis­ci­pline was very high, and there­fore the stan­dard of ed­u­ca­tion was very high.

“I knew her largely in that ca­pac­ity. It is a great pity that her bril­liant life had to be snuffed out so abruptly. I only hope that her hus­band and fam­ily are able to bear this loss.”

Pil­lay said it was of great con­cern that se­nior cit­i­zens are be­ing at­tacked so of­ten in their homes.

“I am not sure how this (an at­tack) is go­ing to hap­pen, be­cause now we all feel ex­tremely un­safe. Even a guest who you will­ingly in­vite into your house be­comes a mur­derer, and it has re­ally in­creased the sense of se­cu­rity among peo­ple.”

PIC­TURE: SHEL­LEY KJONSTAD

Dha­so­gan Pil­lay, sec­ond right, and rel­a­tives at his mother’s fu­neral.

Gona Pil­lay and Loga in hap­pier times.

PIC­TURE: SHEL­LEY KJONSTAD

Friends and fam­ily look on as mourn­ers line up to pay their last re­spects at Pil­lay’s cof­fin.

PIC­TURE: BONGANI MBATHA

Pro­tes­tors out­side the Chatsworth Mag­is­trate’s Court.

Gona Pil­lay, much-loved ed­u­ca­tion­ist and role model.

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