Court hears retired principal was strangled to death as her husband watched helplessly
Pillay was the first witness to testify at the start of the murder trial of Gonapathy Pillay in the Durban High Court on Tuesday.
Three of the accused, including an estate agent intern, Lungani Basil Underhill, are accused of murder, attempted murder and robbery with aggravating circumstances. A fourth accused, known only as Thembinkosi, is still at large.
Pillay held his composure while recalling the events of September 20, 2017 that led to his wife, Gonapathy, being strangled with her scarf while he lay on the bathroom floor after having been stabbed 18 times.
He said they had been looking forward to downsizing from their seven-bedroom family home and put their house on the market for R1.5 million.
“On September 18, Basil called us to say a millionaire from Joburg was interested in buying our house for R1.5 million and they would come through on Wednesday afternoon (the day of the killing).”
Pillay said they were excited because this meant they would get their asking price. He said Underhill arrived and introduced them to the accused - his cousin, Sibonelo Braveman Underhill, 25, the prospective property buyer, Fredboy Msomi, 30, and Thembinkosi.
They were taken on a tour of the home and when they returned to the lounge, Msomi allegedly told Pillay he was ready to sign a purchase agreement.
“My wife told me to get a Madeira cake from the nearby shop to serve with tea. It took me about 10 minutes (to buy it).
“When I returned, we were sitting and talking and Basil slipped out to the kitchen. When he returned, he held a knife to my throat. My wife immediately asked what he was doing.”
He said Underhill and Thembinkosi grabbed him, while Sibonelo Braveman Underhill and Msomi held on to his wife.
“They started pushing us and rolled us down the stairs. Basil said ‘Please keep quite and nothing will happen’.
“I was tossed on the bathroom floor, face down, and Basil started thrusting the knife into my back.”
Pillay said Underhill had also “jumped and kicked” at his back.
“When I looked over to Gona, Fredboy was holding her tightly and Braveman was busy strangling her. She screamed and it all went quiet.”
He said he “stayed still” on the bathroom floor until he heard a vehicle leave. He then made his way up a flight of stairs to activate the panic button.
According to a statement read out by Underhill’s attorney, Shaheen Seedat, the intern at the real estate agency claimed he had been deceived by his co-accused to gain entry into the couple’s home.
He claimed he had a good relationship with Gona.
“I had been to the Pillays’ house in August (2017) and frequently chatted with Mrs Pillay.
“I was very excited that I was going make my first big sale of R1.5 million with the Pillays’ property in Chatsworth.”
Underhill said he met Msomi via his cousin and that he (Msomi) wanted to purchase a property for between R1.5m to R3m.
Underhill, 25, claimed that on the day in question, Gona greeted him with a kiss on the cheek.
After they had cake and tea, Underhill claimed Msomi stepped out to make a call, while he went to the kitchen to wash his hands.
“When I turned, I saw the accused (Msomi) with a gun pointing at me. His hand, which had the gun, had a surgical glove on it, while a finger in his left hand was pointed at his mouth to keep me quiet.”
He said Msomi had given him a knife and warned him not to do anything stupid or they all would die.
“Out of fear for myself and everyone, I played the part. I placed the knife in Mr Pillay’s right shoulder.”
Underhill said he handed himself to police the next day, and helped recover the stolen property.
In Msomi’s statement, read out by his attorney Sizwe Masondo, he claimed he was just transporting Underhill and the other two accused and was not part of any sales agreement.
According to the indictments, a TV, an undisclosed amount of cash and a Mercedes-Benz were stolen.
The trial is set down for three weeks.