Despite being sentenced to five years imprisonment for spending over R800 000 which was erroneously deposited into her student account, convicted student leader Sibongile Mani has escaped the inner walls of a prison cell for now as her lawyers have launched an appeal of the conviction and sentence.
The appeal will be heard on April 11, the National Prosecuting Authority said.
The NPA said Mani’s defence team expressed their intention to appeal both the conviction and the sentence, and the case was provisionally postponed to April 11 for the appeal to be heard.
On Wednesday, East London Regional Magistrate, Twanette Olivier, sentenced Mani to five years imprisonment.
"The state will oppose the appeal, and the arguments for the opposition will be ventilated on when the appeal is heard. Mani remains out on bail.
“After the sentencing, the defence expressed its intention to appeal both the conviction and the sentence, and the case was provisionally postponed to 11 April for the appeal to be heard.
“The state will oppose the appeal, and the arguments for the opposition will be ventilated on when the appeal is heard. Mani remains out on bail," said NPA spokesperson in the Eastern Cape, Luxolo Tyali.
Mani, a student at the Walter Sisulu University, made headlines after R14 million was deposited into her student account by mistake.
Tyali said Mani went on a 76-day spending spree, splurging over R800 000 on several prohibited items which included 11 blankets, nine bath sheets, various shorts for men, a variety of alcoholic drinks, cigarettes, 24 jackets and handbags.
"She also spent the money in different towns, which was proof that she had planned the theft. The court found that the above matters and the fact that she was a student activist, who knew and understood the processes of student finances, demonstrated that she deliberately committed the theft and knew what she was doing was illegal," Mani said.
The NPA said Mani did not take the court into her confidence as she declined to testify during the trial, choosing to exercise her right to remain silent.
It said it predominantly relied on the evidence of the state to make a judgment. The court found the state's evidence and version of events to be truthful and reliable.
"The prosecution had prayed for a custodial sentence, even though the two pre-sentence reports prepared by the Department of Social Development and the Department of Correctional Services, respectively, had recommended a suspended sentence or correctional supervision.
“The state submitted that the crime was motivated by greed not need; that white collar crime was prevalent and ever increasing in South Africa, and should it go unpunished, it posed a serious threat to the democracy of the country because it stifles economic growth," the NPA said.
Tyali added that the state further argued that 585 deserving students could have gone hungry because of Mani’s actions and she could have caused more damage if the error was not picked up. She did not show any remorse but regret.