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Thief or foolish? NSFAS, ANCYL defend convicted student Sibongile Mani

Walter Sisulu University student Sibongile Mani who is convicted for using nearly R800 000 of R14 Million that was wrongfully deposited into her student account has been sentenced to five years in prison. Picture: BHEKI RADEBE

Walter Sisulu University student Sibongile Mani who is convicted for using nearly R800 000 of R14 Million that was wrongfully deposited into her student account has been sentenced to five years in prison. Picture: BHEKI RADEBE

Published Mar 30, 2022

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Johannesburg - The National Student Financial Aid Scheme has slammed the criminal prosecution of the convicted student thief, Sibongile Mani, who spent more than R800 000 which had been erroneously deposited into her student account.

The ANC Youth League in the Eastern Cape has also criticized her five year jail sentence, saying the 31-year-old Mani was not guilty of theft, but foolishness instead. They also called for a non-custodial sentence.

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The East London Regional Court Magistrate Twanette Olivier on Wednesday sentenced Mani to five years behind bars for stealing R818 000 in student funds which had been deposited into her student account in 2017.

Olivier found that Mani’s actions, in which the former student leader spent over R818 000 in about 80 days, had been inspired by greed, not need.

The honours student had been due to receive R1400 for her food and book allowance, but erroneously received R14m.

The funds were deposited by Intellimali, a Walter Sisulu University service provider which had been appointed to facilitate the payments of food and book allowances to students.

The funds are understood to originate from NSFAS and are sent to the university, who then appoints the third party service provider to administer the funds.

The student splashed over R800 000 on an assortment of goods including alcohol, cigarettes, clothes (some for men), bags, blankets, appliances and other goods, in different towns during a 76-day splurge.

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In a statement on Wednesday night, NSFAS said they nor the university had incurred any financial loss from the ordeal. They slammed the decision to prosecute Mani.

Said NSFAS: “We wish to confirm that NSFAS did not institute any criminal proceedings against the student as there was no basis for it to do so.

“NSFAS position is, that while the student ought to have known better to not spend money they were not entitled to, criminally charging the student is irreversibly unfortunate.

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“This has the effect of destroying a young person’s future, thereby unfairly allotting all the blame on the student and none on the system of the service provider that should have prevented an erroneous transaction from having to be effected.

“The service provider could have pursued other means to recover the money from the student once she completed her qualification and obtained gainful employment,” said the state bursar.

NSFAS also slammed Intellimali for having weak internal controls, which ultimately led to the error in allotting over R14m to Mani.

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Meanwhile, the ANC Youth League in the Eastern Cape said the charges against the thieving student were ill conceived and the sentence was too harsh.

The ANCYL said it acknowledged that Mani used the funds which were not due to her and she had an option to alert the university about the error, but did not do so.

“However, the argument that this was theft is to stretch it. For all intents and purposes, she is rather guilty of foolishness.

“Here we simply have a case of a young person from an impoverished background committing an error of judgment when an unforeseen amount landed on her account. This could have happened in the case of any other young adult in similar circumstances,’’ the ANCYL said in a statement.

The Eastern Cape ANCYL also said the appropriate sentence would have been a suspended sentence bound to community service and not jail time.

“This would have been effective in teaching a lesson not be foolish. The real issue of criminality is the administrative chaos that is playing out at NSFAS,” read the statement.

They said there were many officials who credited students only to demand kickbacks from students.

They said attention needed to be focused at investigations towards “thuggery at the scheme”.

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 (NPA) said on Wednesday.

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.

The NPA said it would oppose the appeal.

IOL

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