Gona murder: trio in court
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.”
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.
“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.”
Dhasogan Pillay, second right, and relatives at his mother’s funeral.
Gona Pillay and Loga in happier times.
Friends and family look on as mourners line up to pay their last respects at Pillay’s coffin.
Protestors outside the Chatsworth Magistrate’s Court.
Gona Pillay, much-loved educationist and role model.