Panayiotou case still has community reeling

2015-05-05 17:27
Nelson Mandela Bay Ratepayers Association head Kobus Gerber with a noose inside the PE Magistrate's Court (Derrick Spies, News24)

Nelson Mandela Bay Ratepayers Association head Kobus Gerber with a noose inside the PE Magistrate's Court (Derrick Spies, News24)

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Port Elizabeth – It has been two weeks of shocking revelations and dramatic twists following the disappearance and murder of Jayde Panayiotou on the April 21.

Three men, including her husband Christopher, are now in custody and police have not ruled out the possibility of further arrests.

Her disappearance 

It all began when Jayde Panayiotou, 29, disappeared from in front of her townhouse complex, Stellen Glen, in Kabega Park on Tuesday April 21, shortly after 06:30.

Panayitou was a Grade 7 teacher at Riebeek College Girls’ High School in Uitenhage and had been waiting for a lift with her close friend, Cherise Swanepoel.

When Swanepoel arrived, and Panayitou wasn’t there, an intense manhunt was triggered. Police and public alike rallied and started searching for her, with photos of Panayitou being distributed widely across social media platforms.

Concern escalated as it became known that a total of R1 500 - the withdrawal limit on Panayiotou’s account - had been withdrawn from an ATM at the KwaNobuhle Shopping Centre in Matanzima Street just before 08:00.

A police task team was quickly formed, including roleplayers from Uitenhage and Kabega Park police stations, senior detectives from the Mount Road Cluster Office, as well as crime intelligence. The services of a SAPS police helicopter were also called in to aid in the search for Panayiotou.

Her death

Sadly, roughly 28 hours after her disappearance, the SAPS helicopter spotted an object on the ground on a farm in an isolated area near KwaNobuhle Township in Uitenhage.

The helicopter had been dispatched to search there after reports were received that workers in the area had heard gunshots, shortly after her abduction the day before.

Police on the ground inspected the site and confirmed that it was Panayiotou's body. Devastated family members were escorted to the murder scene by police. It was later confirmed that she had been shot.

Outpouring of grief

The same day her body was discovered, more than 4 000 people descended on the Kabega Park police station demanding “Justice for Jayde”, and the reinstatement of the death penalty.

The impromptu gathering was organised over social media, with news of the gathering spreading like wildfire.

Traffic was brought to a standstill as the crowds filled all three lanes of the street. Parents and children, some already wearing their pyjamas, marched alongside elderly couples with walking sticks and individuals with their dogs.

The announcement of her death also had a profound impact on the school, where teachers and students had been praying for her safe return.

At her memorial service, held at the school later in the week, colleagues and students remembered the teacher who had been a part of their lives; a compassionate soul who cared about people and animals and who was true to herself and brought joy to others.

As the story of her murder spread, people around the world reacted. In one instance more than 70 South Africans living in the United Arab Emirates took part in a march of remembrance for her through the city of Al Ain.

Funeral

Panayiotou’s funeral, which was open to the public, was held at the Mater Dei Catholic Church in Cape Road, Port Elizabeth, last week on Tuesday April 28. The church was so full that additional chairs and speakers were set up in front of the building to accommodate everyone.

In his tribute, Panayiotou’s husband Christopher spoke lovingly of his wife and said how he was honoured to have been with her for the last 11 years, and how he never quite understood how she had chosen him to be her husband.

He described Jayde as the salt of his sea, the stars in his sky and his sand on earth.

“Jayde was my drive to do better, Jayde kept me going,” he said.

It would later be revealed that the majority of his speech was taken from a tribute written by Charles Atkins called "My Sweet Wife's Eulogy" and dated October 2010. 

Arrests

While many grieved at the tragic loss, police shifted their focus to track down the men responsible for Panayiotou’s death.

A new task team, consisting of detectives, crime intelligence officers and forensic experts continued to follow up on the case, while those involved in the search for her went back to their regular duties.

Police played their cards tight to their chest, announcing a breakthrough in the case two days after Jayde’s funeral.

They announced that two suspects, aged 31 and 28, had been arrested, and that they had ruled out robbery as a motive for Panayiotou’s murder.

The breakthrough had actually come earlier in the week, following the arrest of Thando Siyoli, 31, a bouncer at Christopher Panayiotou’s bar Infinity in Algoa Park. He was arrested in Kwazakhele.

Siyoli, who is believed to have turned state witness, apparently assisted police with a sting operation that led to the subsequent arrest of Christopher on Wednesday night last week. He was arrested in Uitenhage.

Siyoli appeared in court on Thursday last week and is expected to make another brief appearance on Thursday.

On Sunday, police also arrested Sizwezakhe Vumazonke, 30, in connection with the murder. He was arrested in New Brighton.

Panayiotou appeared for the first time on Monday, facing charges of conspiracy to commit murder, kidnapping, robbery with aggravating circumstances and murder. He will remain in custody till his next court appearance on June 19.

Vumazonke appeared briefly on Tuesday. He did not have legal representation and also had his case postponed to June 19.

Vumazonke, whose right eye was swollen shut, claimed in court police had beaten him.

Read more on:    jayde panayiotou  |  port elizabeth  |  crime

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