'She sometimes feared for her life': Celeb make-up artist girlfriend of cigarette boss found dead

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American actor Djimon Hounsou and Maja Janeska. (maya_mia_y via Instagram)
American actor Djimon Hounsou and Maja Janeska. (maya_mia_y via Instagram)
  • Police confirmed that Maja Janeska was found with a gunshot wound to her head on Friday.
  • Janeska was in a relationship with Kyle Phillips, the co-director of Adriano Mazzotti's Carnilinx cigarette company, at the time of her death.
  • Police are not treating Janeska's death as suspicious, but family and friends have told News24 that they cannot believe she would take her own life.

Celebrity make-up artist and businessperson Maja Janeska – whose cigarette tycoon boyfriend, Kyle Phillips, helped EFF leader Julius Malema pay his tax bill – has died from a gunshot wound to the head, police have confirmed.

Police told News24 that they had opened an inquest docket in relation to Janeska's death, which means, at this stage, that it is not being treated as suspicious by law enforcement authorities.

"Police received a call about a person who allegedly killed herself in Bassonia Estate. Upon arrival at the address given, police found a woman in the bedroom with a gunshot wound to the head. There was a firearm next to her. The woman was certified dead by the paramedics," said police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Mavela Masondo.

News24 learnt from impeccable sources that Phillips had told those close to the incident that he was in the house at the time of Janeska's death, and had rushed to the room where she was found. 

Phillips' ex-wife, Tracy, disputed this account of events, but was unable to provide any details as to why. She said Phillips was "devastated and in shock by this tragedy".

She said he would "cooperate with the investigation".

READ | Cash, booze and condoms: What Malema and Mazzotti's housekeeper saw

The shock passing of the popular Macedonian Instagram influencer, whose 1.2 million followers included Malema and celebrities like Boity, Pearl Thusi and Tamara Dey, has left her family in Europe and her friends in South Africa reeling. 

A relative, who asked not to be named, told News24 the family were in "absolute shock" at the devastating news. 

"Our phones haven't stopped ringing; this is all new to us. We are in Europe, and our hands are tied because we can't come to South Africa because of visa issues. [Janeska] is lying there in some mortuary, and we don't have any clue as to what is actually happening," the relative added.

Maja Janeska
Maja Janeska (far right) speaks to EFF leader Julius Malema’s wife, Mantwa, at the wedding of Carnilinx boss Adriano Mazzotti’s daughter in Ibiza, Spain in July this year. Businessman Kyle Phillips (second from left), in discussion with the EFF’s Vuyani Pambo, is Mazzotti’s business partner in Carnilinx and Janeska’s ex-partner. He loaned R1 million to Malema to settle his tax bill with Sars. (Picture: Supplied)

According to her relative, Janeska's family learnt of her death through one of Phillips' former associates, who called to tell them that her body had been found, and that suicide was the suspected cause of her death.

"She sometimes feared for her life. Her boyfriend had men working for him, and she feared them also. We are heartbroken, and we seriously don't know what to do."

The relative added that, when Phillips contacted them about Janeska's death, he appeared "distraught".

For Janeska's close friend, Iva Ristic, news of her untimely death was "heartbreaking" and impossible to process.

"I spoke to her on Thursday, and she wasn't suicidal. She was not that kind of person," she said.

She added:

She had just got back from a diplomatic trip in Macedonia. She was such a beautiful woman, full of life, very talented and ambitious. She was well-acquainted with ministers in the country and chefs. She loved life, and I fail to understand why someone would harm her in any way.

Janeska's social media posts and media engagements portray her as an upbeat and driven woman, who was determined to succeed.

READ | Malema's Spanish fiesta with the Mazzottis

In an address to university students just nine days before her death, Janeska described how she had moved to Tanzania at the age of 19, where she had received an offer to work in a hotel. It was there that she learnt Swahili and began a career as a make-up artist and stylist.

She urged her young audience not to give up on their dreams.

"You can have good and bad moments in life, but you are the one who can and should make changes. Desire is one thing, confidence is another. Believe in yourself, because that's the only way you will succeed," she said.

Deputy Minister in the Presidency Pinky Kekana and Maja Janeska. (maya_mia_y via Instagram)
Macedonian judge Darko Kostadinovski and Maja Janeska. (maya_mia_y via Instagram)
Maja Janeska
Maja Janeska and Kenyan politician Hassan Joho. (maya_mia_y via Instagram)
Maja Janeska
Maja Janeska and Tanzanian politician January Makamba. (maya_mia_y via Instagram)

In her final Instagram post, dated 22 November, Janeska was pictured with North Macedonia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Bujar Osman. She posted that the engagement was aimed at establishing diplomatic relations between "my country, Republic of North Macedonia, and my second home, the Republic of South Africa".

"The journey of joining the two countries and nations together was my mission as a patriot and the love for both countries and nations is what got me to initiate it. This relationship has brought amazing opportunities for business, education, tourism and exchange of cultural experiences…

"My heart is full of love and appreciation for both countries."

READ | EFF leaders want Malema and Mazzotti 'housekeeper' story retracted and Pauw book pulled off shelves

Janeska's social media posts and LinkedIn profile show a profound shift from her early life as a make-up artist and beauty blogger to an aspirant businessperson

She said that she "continues to grow" in, among other things, the energy, mining and tobacco industries.

Her relationship with Phillips – who is the co-director of Adriano Mazzotti's cigarette company Carnilinx – was described by those who knew the couple as "on and off".

The couple was, however, pictured together at the July wedding of Mazzotti's daughter in Ibiza, which was also attended by Malema and his wife.

In 2015, the Sunday Times reported that court papers, related to a tax dispute between Malema and the SA Revenue Service, had revealed that the EFF leader told tax authorities that Phillips had loaned him R1 million to help settle his tax bill.

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