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This past week, social media and radio station open lines lit up after it emerged that Walter Sisulu University student Sibongile Mani was paid R14.1 million in error as part of her National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) allowance.

The story grew more sensational when it emerged that, in just over two months, she managed to spend R818 000 on smartphones, whiskey and clothing.

The response ranged from outright condemnation of Mani to humour, with many asking what they would have done had they become multimillionaires overnight. Righteous radio hosts lamented Mani’s social background, arguing that perhaps she did not have faith in her own future as a poor black student and this might have informed her decision to blow a million rand.

Let’s set the record straight. When money is paid into your account in error, the moment you become aware of this and don’t return it, you have committed theft. There is no way to look at the episode other than to see it as unethical behaviour built on gross incompetence.

Campuses have been burning with Fees Must Fall protests and this PAC student leader should have known that Pasma was vocal throughout about the misappropriation of money for poor students. Did she not see the irony?

Then, one has to ask, what kind of society is lacking so much in basic ethical role models that splurging on alcohol in the name of poor students is even contemplated? Treasury is feeling the pressure with billions being wasted on supposed IT services, government departments countrywide have corruption scandals by the dozen, banks were bust colluding to weaken our currency and the competition commission exposes private sector cartels on an almost weekly basis. Our society is rotten.

IntelliMali chief executive Michael Ansell says Mani will be sued and a forensic investigation carried out. What if it uncovers more ineptitude?

To the backdrop of students demanding free education and yearly protests that destroy millions of rand of property, this entire episode is the furthest thing from funny. It is a metaphor for the incompetence, corruption and grandiose nature of far too many in our country.

The Sunday Independent