The ruthless killing of a man who loved Israel passionately

  • Sergio1
The Chairman of Likud SA, Sergio Kowensky, was shot dead in broad daylight outside his factory in Benrose, Johannesburg, this week.
by NICOLA MILTZ | Jul 05, 2018

As news of his tragic death rippled through the community, people wondered why he was killed and who killed him. How was it possible that a man, loved by so many, could meet a fate so brutal?

The initial fears were that this could have been the work of anti-Israel fanatics, given that Kowensky spent his entire life dedicated to Zionist ideals, with an intense passion for the well-being of the State of Israel. He was an outspoken supporter of Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, and was not afraid to speak his mind on matters related to Israel. He represented Likud on the South African Zionist Federation management committee. Could his right-wing Zionism have led to his untimely demise?

Others put it down to just another senseless act of urban violence on the crime-ridden streets of Johannesburg. In the days following his passing, the SA Jewish Report attempted to piece together the puzzle.

As far as the police investigation is concerned, it is still very early days. However, shortly after midday on Tuesday, 2 July, Kowensky arrived at his workplace, Serpini Air Conditioning at 103 Main Reef Road, Benrose. Before he had time to realise that his life was in danger, he had been shot several times, and left for dead on the side of the road. The assailants did not take his car, his wallet, or his cellphone before fleeing.

The shots alerted workers in his factory and others in surrounding businesses. What ensued was the frantic mayhem that accompanies such futile brutality.

First on the scene was his beloved youngest son, Joni, 32, who had received a panic-stricken call from the on-site security guard, telling him to call an ambulance.

En route to his father’s factory, the younger Kowensky feared the worst, and made calls to Hatzolah and Netcare. Despite the desperate efforts of paramedics, Kowensky, 67, succumbed to his injuries.

According to friends closest to him, Kowensky was a deeply spiritual man who attended weekly Torah classes with monotonous regularity. He kept the Sabbath, and gave generously to charity with an open heart.

His lifelong friend, Arnold Garber, also from Argentina, said he was deeply saddened. “Sergio was a great guy. He loved spending time with the residents of Sandringham Gardens, and would go there for shul services from time to time. He was genuine and kind. We had known each other for 40 years.”

He said that Kowensky had attended a weekly Monday night shiur for the past ten years. This week, the regulars gathered in his honour.

Steve Zagey of Likud SA described Kowensky as a “deeply committed man” who was actively involved in breathing new life into the Betar movement, something he felt strongly about. “He was kindhearted and charitable, and the State of Israel meant everything to him,” he said.

His friend Mike Fisher described Kowensky as a “mensch” who cared about those going through difficult times, and did a lot of charitable work “behind the scenes”.

According to Fisher, Kowensky was not shy to speak his mind on Israel, and was known to members of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

In recent months, Kowensky had experienced ugly “labour-related issues” at his company, causing him much distress.

According to sources, Kowensky was allegedly involved in fraught wage negotiations with staff members at his company, which left a number of staff disgruntled. It is understood that Kowensky’s company went into liquidation towards the end of last year, and staff were retrenched.

The details surrounding the final outcome of this situation remain sketchy. Some speculate the murder may have been revenge for the many lay-offs. His friends and family would not be drawn on the matter.

Whatever the motive behind his untimely death, Kowensky leaves a devastated family and a host of close friends who continue to sing his praises.

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Kowensky grew up in the small town of Moisés Ville in the province of Santa Fe, which was founded by Eastern European and Russian Jews escaping persecution in 1889.

His late parents, Zaidel and Leah, were Holocaust survivors who came from Belarus. According to the family, Leah was a partisan and had the nickname “The Fighter Girl”, which has been acknowledged by Yad Vashem.

Kowensky qualified as a Hebrew teacher, and taught at the local school in Moisés Ville where his parents were both teachers. The family made aliya, and Kowensky later studied engineering at Haifa Technion. He met his wife, Alison, a South African, while in Israel.

“My father breathed Zionism,” said Joni this week. “As a religious man, he knew all sides and engaged everyone on the subject, including those who held opposing views. He knew the history of Israel backwards, and enjoyed engaging people on the subject, including people like well-known United States lawyer Alan Dershowitz.”

He attributed the re-opening of the Betar Southern Africa movement to his father.

Kowensky co-authored a religious book written entirely in Hebrew with Rabbi Shimon Pinsky, the title of which translates loosely as, “The Meaning of 40 in the Torah”.

The World Likud Board and Council sent messages of condolences to the family. Chairperson Yaakov Hagoel and Chief Executive Ifat Ovadia-Luski said in a letter: “We are shocked and saddened at the tragic death”. They said Kowensky was a “dear friend” who was a “great Betar and Likud activist who dedicated his time and effort to the State of Israel and the Jewish people”.

The funeral for the late Kowensky will take place in Israel. The family is holding a service for him on Thursday, 5 July, at 16:30 in the Yeshiva College main shul.

Kowensky is survived by his loving wife Alison, and their three children: daughter Michal, 42, (Michal’s husband Marc and their two children), and Kowensky’s sons Doron, 40, and Joni, 32.


  1. 4 Dr C D Goldberg 05 Jul
    Crime and violence is unfortunately high and out of control in some cases, and it remains for all to exert pressure on the Government and the Authorities to something about this. If this gentleman was an employer of workers, it could well happen that they could be without work as a result of the murder. I wish his next of kin long life.
  2. 3 Brett Chatz 06 Jul
    Another senseless act of violence in SA. Jews must leave this hell hole. 
  3. 2 Rusty van Druten 08 Jul
    Sad indeed - It would seem to me that the layoffs could well have been behind this rather than typical SA daily violence and attack. The job climate is so challenging here lately that many turn to revenge of one kind or another. when sidelined.  A good example of that is taxi violence, where opposing factions resort to firearms as disputes flare up and go ballistic. This country is not safe anymore, by any means.
  4. 1 Gilbert Achsen 08 Jul
    I and my partner  Michele send our condolences to the Kowensky family. May Sergio rest in peace and his important achievements live on in the hearts of minds of all lovers of Israel evrerywhere.


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