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Choice to spend lockdown in SA was fatal

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During the early days of the pandemic, Gillian Kay chose to spend lockdown in her beloved childhood home in South Africa instead of being alone in her apartment in Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv.

She needed to find new tenants for her house across the road from the Sydenham-Highlands North Shul in the neighbourhood of Rouxville while she stayed in the cottage on the property and tended to the little garden.

This proved to be a fatal decision.

Somewhere around 10 or 11 July, she was brutally murdered and robbed of her small possessions allegedly by a gardener, someone she knew and had helped look after.

Sadly, the colourful, feisty, accomplished tennis player, psychologist, healer, and teacher never got to find new tenants, and her childhood home now lies empty and forlorn.

Her savage death came during the week of mayhem as the country was gripped by looting and riots.

For those who knew her, her untimely death came as a shock.

“It was so utterly senseless and tragic,” said her cousin Louis Sweidan this week, “This is what you get for helping someone.”

“The murderer took her old 1989 Toyota Corolla, her laptop, and a moon bag which contained her passport and some cash,” he said.

It’s unsure exactly when her attacker entered her cottage. An estate agent, wanting to show a would-be tenant the property on Sunday, 11 July at 10:00, became worried when Kay didn’t answer the door or her phone. Later, she alerted neighbours and security when further calls to Kay went unanswered.

It was on the afternoon of 11 July that her listless body was found. She had been strangled and choked.

Kay’s cousin in Israel, Michael Sweidan, told the SA Jewish Report that she passed away three months shy of her 80th birthday.

“She never married or had children of her own, but she made it her life’s ambition to connect with family around the world.”

Joining the dots of the family tree was very important to her, he said.

“When we made aliyah three years ago, she became our adopted grandmother – our only family away from South Africa. She loved my children as if they were her grandchildren.”

He said family members had often tried to get Kay to sell the house in Rouxville, but she couldn’t part with it.

“She had a strong emotional attachment to the house having grown up there, and she simply didn’t want to let it go,” said Louis.

It also gave her an excuse to visit South Africa, which she loved very much even though she left the country as a young woman in the 1970s, he said.

“Her father built the house and left it to her when he passed. She later built a cottage on the property where she would stay on her regular visits. She refused to get rid of the place.”

Two childhood school friends, who also live in Israel, Ingrid Messika and Fay Morris, posted a tribute to Kay on the Waverley Girls High School Facebook page. They said they were “horrified and heartbroken” to hear what happened to Gillian, who they described as a true friend.

“She will be sorely missed because she was the sort of friend who really cared about others and freely gave of her huge knowledge of medical and other general subjects. Together with her advice and empathy, we always felt that she was almost a family member who knew and cared about all our children and grandchildren and never forgot them even in the most recent phone conversations from Johannesburg.”

They said Kay was one of five girls in their matric year who made aliyah.

Shedding light on a life well lived, they said Kay wasn’t just a talented sportswomen, she had a gift for understanding people.

“Through her studies at university – with a Masters in psychology from Tel Aviv University – she helped many people, but she also used all sorts of alternative medicine, particularly Chinese medicine, which she studied all the time.”

They said she recently visited Lithuania on a roots trip and discovered her grandparents’ property in Birzai.

Norwood police confirmed that three suspects were arrested 48 hours after the murder, house robbery, and theft of a motor vehicle on 12 July.

Spokesperson for the Norwood Police Station, Sergeant Eric Masotsha, said that a multidisciplinary team including the Serious and Violent Crimes Unit, SAPS Gauteng Highway Patrol, SAPS Lyttelton, SAPS Airwing, CAP Security, and Fidelity Specialised Services received information regarding a house robbery where Kay was robbed, tortured, and murdered. Her car and household goods were taken during the violent robbery.

According to reports, her car was located at a shopping mall in Centurion and shortly afterwards, the team effected an arrest and seizure. The driver of Kay’s car was found in possession of her documents which she carried around with her in a little basket. Further investigation led to the house of the suspect in Olievenhoutbosch, where further items were found belonging to Kay including her cell phone.

Her funeral at Westpark Cemetery may have been very small, but the lives she touched throughout the world were many.

Rabbi Alexander Carlebach read a moving eulogy written by her younger cousin, Gareth Sweidan, who was very close to her. In it he said, “Gillian had every intention of living life for many years to come. Sadly, her aspiration to live a long life was cut short by a reprehensible and viciously callous act. Such a bright light for those around her, it’s a truly tragic loss that such a light has been extinguished.”

Gareth used words such as “formidable”, “honest”, “intellectually curious”, and “very bright” to describe Kay.

Holding a string of degrees, she was an avid reader and was deeply spiritual.

“One cannot talk about the life of Gillian without mentioning her love of sport. In her lifetime, she would play as many sports as she was able to: hockey, swimming, and tennis. But it was the latter that hooked her. Tennis shaped Gillian’s life for many years, and it allowed her to travel the world and meet many interesting characters. She even had the honour of playing tennis for her country, Israel. She could still play a mean game right into her late sixties,” said Gareth.

He described her as a truly altruistic person, forever helping those that came across her path in any way she could.

“Gillian was passionate about our family and its history. She was forever connecting us and developing our family tree – always on the hunt for more information about our ancestors and how our family has managed to span the globe.”

He said Kay lived life fully, and lived with love.

Kay is survived by her sister, Lorna, and brother, Eliezer, and countless family members scattered around the world who she managed to connect with given her passion for genealogy.

The suspects are due to appear in court later this month.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Liz Sweidan

    Aug 12, 2021 at 4:02 pm

    I had the privilege of knowing Gill very well. She often would phone we could talk for hours about the Sweidan family in Israel.As I was researching my husbands family connections in Lithuania.
    My husband Selwyn was a cousin of Gill his father the late Phillip Sweidan was a brother of her late mom Fanny Kay.
    This tragedy has shocked our family beyond words, MHDSRIP.

  2. Limor Messika

    Aug 13, 2021 at 6:02 pm

    A truly amazing woman.
    She touched my life with her special ability to be attentive and reassuring even when I wasn’t at my best.
    It really hurts. Bless her soul.

  3. Ingrid

    Aug 14, 2021 at 11:15 am

    Gillian Kay, my dear friend, I still cannot believe that this is the awful thing that happened to you.It shocks me over and over again. We were at Waverley Girls high school together, at Wits together, studied Zoology there together, both lived in Israel for the past few decades and were always friends. She knew and loved my children all born in Israel, and even my grandchildren born in the USA.I She was at my sons barmitzvah…29 years ago, at my late moms 90th Birthday 15 years ago, at Kochav Yair.Every now and then she travelled back to Johannesburg for no more than two or three months.The Corona came and has changed our world. She went to South Africa.Gill went to SAfrica in late january/early february 2020 , and tried to organise various things there,including renting out her house. But basically got stuck there due to the Corona.We spoke at least once a week. My last call and talk with her was on the 8th of July 2021, a few days before she was murdered. She said something to me that day which in retrospect, could be looked at as a horrifiying prediction. She was mentally and organizationally preparing to return at last to Israel, if flights were allowed etc. But she said, ” every time I plan to return home, something happens to prevent it” And this time it was a final something.How cruel and how tragic. Gill I will nevery forget you, so many memories…May your soul and ever lasting strength and last rest in peace. Your friend Ingrid

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