The mothers’ agony

Fanoula Panayiotou sobbed after her son Christopher was found guilty of planning his wife’s murder. Picture: Nosipiwo Manona
Fanoula Panayiotou sobbed after her son Christopher was found guilty of planning his wife’s murder. Picture: Nosipiwo Manona

Mums feel jubilation and despair as their sons are found guilty of murdering Jayde Panayiotou in 2015.

When Judge Dayalin Chetty delivered his judgment in the murder trial of Christopher Panayiotou and his co-accused this week, three mothers were forced to come to terms with their sons’ actions almost three years after Jayde Panayiotou was killed.

And when the Port Elizabeth High Court judge ruled that Panayiotou, Sinethemba Nenembe and Zolani Sibeko were guilty of murdering Panayiotou’s wife, their mothers were listening with bated breath.

Panayiotou’s mother, Fanoula, sat in the front row in Court A’s public gallery, surrounded by eight family members, including her husband.

On the bench behind her was Sinethemba Nenembe’s mother, who was supported in court by two friends. She declined to provide her name.

In the row behind them was Jayde’s family – the Inggs – and their supporters, who wore T-shirts that said “Justice for Jayde”.

As Chetty found her son guilty, Fanoula lowered her head and sobbed, her face obscured by her thick, straight hair. Her husband, Costa, consoled her, using his chest to shield her from the cameras.

Nenembe’s mother rushed to the wooden barrier separating the dock from the public gallery, grabbed her son with both hands and shouted words of encouragement.

“Don’t be weak, be strong! Show them whose son you are. Don’t let your head hang down. Whose son are you?” she shouted as she walked along the barrier as her son was led down the stairs to the cells below. Nenembe held on to his mother’s arm for a moment as she kissed him on the face.

At the back of the courtroom, Jayde’s mother, Michelle Inggs, lifted her tear-streaked face and smiled.

For the past two and a half years, the Inggs and Panayiotou families have sat on separate court benches. The two mothers have barely exchanged glances, and they have not exchanged words.

"You have every reason to smile now"

On April 21 2015, Port Elizabeth woke up to news that Jayde, a young teacher, had gone missing from her townhouse in a complex in Kabega early that morning while waiting for her friend to pick her up for work.

The next day, after a widespread overnight search, her body was discovered in a farming area outside Uitenhage. She had been shot three times at close range – in the chest, head and arm.

During the trial, forensic expert Warrant Officer Phillip Bekker said that, when he arrived at the scene, he found Jayde fully clothed, her left arm over her chest, her hand clenched into a fist. Police photographs showed her head lying in a pool of blood.

When the photographs were shown in court, Nenembe and Sibeko, whose families were not in court, covered their faces. Panayiotou looked at the pictures of his murdered wife, showing little emotion.

The alleged hitman, Sizwezakhe Vumazonke, died of suspected poisoning last year.

Panayiotou hired the car used in the abduction, and Nenembe and Sibeko helped plan the murder with Vumazonke.

Nenembe drove the car and sat in the hired vehicle as Jayde was killed.

Judge Chetty, however, found Panayiotou guilty of only one crime – murder – but not guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and defeating the ends of justice for his role in covering up the killing.

Nenembe was found guilty of murder and armed robbery – he stole Jayde’s bank card at gunpoint and withdrew R3 500 from her account – but not guilty of conspiracy to commit murder.

Sibeko was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder.

As Chetty handed down his judgment, Panayiotou remained silent – as he has been throughout the case – his head down. The only sign of emotion was the exaggerated rose-coloured shade on his cheeks.

Fanoula has been by her son’s side throughout the trial, visiting him at the North End Prison in Port Elizabeth, which is known in the neighbourhood as Rooi Hel (red hell) and lies along the freeway leading to the city centre.

Nenembe’s mother continues to believe in him, telling the women who came to court with her: “He must just be strong, he will overcome this. The appeal will release him.”

Mother and son contrasted starkly during the trial – she in her faded, dowdy clothes and he in his branded Soviet jeans, All Star sneakers, Pringle jerseys and leather jacket.

After court was adjourned, Michelle Inggs made a rare comment to the media, saying: “Smile. You have every reason to smile now.”

Then she took husband Derrick’s hand and they walked away.

They were not the only people happy to hear the judgment. After the case, a man who worked at the grocery store owned by the Panayiotou family said he was delighted his former boss was found guilty of murder.

“He wasted a very beautiful and gentle woman. Jayde was a gentle soul and so kind,” he said.

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