- Student Sibongile Mani has been sentenced to five years' direct imprisonment for the theft of National Student Financial Aid Scheme funds.
- Mani was found guilty of stealing R818 000 after R14 million was accidentally transferred into her account on 1 June 2017.
- She was only entitled to a R1 400 monthly allowance for food.
Walter Sisulu University (WSU) student Sibongile Mani has been sentenced to five years' imprisonment for theft relating to R14 million accidentally credited to her account by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) in 2017.
East London Regional Court Magistrate Twanette Olivier found Mani guilty of stealing R818 000 of the funds.
She was only entitled to a R1 400 food allowance and was accused of failing to report when R14 million was credited to her account erroneously. She instead embarked on a spending spree.
After serving one third of the five-year sentence, she will be eligible for parole and could finish the rest of the five years under correctional supervision.
In handing down the sentence on Wednesday, Olivier said the court was of the view that a suspended sentence was totally inappropriate.
"The only sentence that is appropriate is direct imprisonment, and you are therefore sentenced to a term of five years' imprisonment."
Olivier said the court considered the fact that Mani was a first-time offender.
Responding to the defence's submission that the court should not end Mani's bright future, Olivier told Mani: "You, and only yourself, made that decision on 1 June 2017, you did so repeatedly, for 73 consecutive days, numerous times per day."
"You were rushing against time to spend the maximum amount before it's spoilt or brought to [an end]. Those were conscious decisions you took every day, not the court," said Olivier.
Olivier said 585 students who relied on NSFAS funds to study at WSU would have been prejudiced if IntelliMali, a Cape Town-based company responsible for distributing NSFAS funds to students, had not paid back the money she used to WSU.
She also noted the money was "not spent on essential items to stay alive. It was inspired by greed not need".
The court considered Mani's age and health, and Magistrate Olivier stated that Mani was an adult when she committed the crime.
The court dismissed Mani's version that she had no intention of depriving NSFAS of its money and had no knowledge of the specification of the loan agreement she had with NSFAS.
Mani was arrested in May 2018 by the Serious Commercial Crime Unit of the Hawks after IntelliMali opened a case of theft.
Mani was accused of failing to report the error and embarked on a spending spree, blowing more than R800 000 in 73 days.
The State charged that between 1 June, when the money landed in her account, to 13 August, when NSFAS found out about the error, she had spent an average of R11 000 per day.
She ostensibly used the money at 48 merchants in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Gauteng.
During judgment, Olivier told Mani the receipts of her expenditure indicated that "you had definitely planned per day as to how much you can spend per day in as many places as possible on any given date".
She said it was remarkable that Mani had managed to spend so much money per day across the country.
On perusal of Mani's expenditure records, she spent:
- R178 923 at Discount Supermarket in Fleet Street, East London;
- R174 631 at Checkers Hyper supermarket in Centurion;
- R107 255 at Checkers Nonesi Mall in Komani;
- R68 116 at Shoprite on Caxton Street in East London;
- R17 006 at Shoprite in George.
Olivier noted that on 1 June all the spending occurred in East London and one transaction in George.
Olivier said that on 3 June 2017, Mani spent money in East London, Komani, Thembalethu and Mthatha.
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