NSFAS 'millionaire' student makes it to court, arrest warrant cancelled, but case delayed again

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Theft accused student Sibongile Mani.
Theft accused student Sibongile Mani.
Malibongwe Dayimani, News24
  • Sibongile Mani in court after failing to appear for her previous scheduled appearance.
  • Proceedings, however, were once again delayed.
  • Mani is accused of theft after she allegedly spent R800 000 of R14 million in NSFAS money deposited erroneously. 

The arrest warrant against Walter Sisulu University student Sibongile Mani, accused of theft involving a R14 million deposit of NSFAS money, was cancelled after she appeared in court in person on Tuesday.

The case, however, was delayed once again - this time over unclear taped transcripts of the proceedings.

Mani's lawyer, Asanda Pakade, told magistrate Twanett Olivier on Tuesday that recordings he had requested and received from the court were inaudible in parts, and it contained very important evidence.

READ | Warrant of arrest for 'NSFAS millionaire' after failing to appear in court

He said he needed time to source the audio clip from the court clerk, who is in charge of keeping the records.

The court heard from Pakade that the clerk, Dali Cenge, was absent and, therefore, the defence was not able to source the clips on time.

Olivier postponed the case to 30 September to allow the defence team to obtain the audio recordings. 

The magistrate also cancelled a warrant of arrest she had issued against Mani for absconding on Friday, 14 August. 

The warrant of arrest was cancelled after Pakade explained to Olivier that Mani failed to show up for trial after she could not get transport to take her from her home in Komani to East London. 

Closure

Pakade explained that the East London-based student had been inconvenienced by the closure of Walter Sisulu University due to Covid-19.

"Your worship, my client experienced problems in getting transport to take her to court on the day. You will remember the university was closed at the time due to Covid-19, which forced her to go back home to Komani.

READ | SACP not consulted on 'shock' Zandile Gumede deployment

"She struggled to get a transport on time. By the time she got here in East London, the matter was already heard. We humble ourselves before the court to ask you to cancel this warrant of arrest."

The distance between Komani and East London is two hours 34 minutes in a car or 39 hours on foot.

A visibly annoyed state prosecutor, advocate Luthando Makoyi, told Olivier: "Your worship, the state is more than ready to proceed and the witness, Julian Topkin, is ready to resume with evidence as soon as this sideshow is over."

Topkin is one of three directors of the Cape Town-based company that administers student funds, Intelimali.

Investigations

His business partner, Roy Jackson, had previously told the court that three investigations, launched to establish how the R14 million error happened, could not finger anyone.

He said the investigations by the Department of Higher Education and Training, the Public Protector and Intelimali all came to the conclusion that no one was at fault.

Jackson said it appeared that an "absurd glitch" caused a system error that led to the transfer of R14 million into Mani's account.

He also told the court they opened a case of theft against Mani because her failing to report the error cost Intelimali lots of money.

Jackson said, at the time, Intelimali had to pay the R818 469 spent by Mani back to NSFAS and hired auditors at a cost of R500 000 to launch an investigation that bore no fruit.

Account

The R14 million was credited into Mani's account on 1 June 2017.

Court documents show that, within two hours after the money landed in her account, she blew R20 000 on items such as alcohol, cigarettes and electrical appliances.

The State also charges that, over 73 days, the money spent totalled R818 469 before she was caught in August.

She was a second year Accountancy diploma student at the time and a secretary of the Pan African Student Movement of Azania, a student arm of the PAC.

Her spending spree was cut short after the windfall was reported by SRC rivals from the ANC-aligned South African Student Congress.

"The warrant for your arrest is cancelled and you are warned to return to this court on 30 September. Case postponed for inaudible parts of the audio records to be obtained by the defence," said Olivier.

Pakade said the unclear part in the taped transcripts of the trial was very important.

"We request grace from the court until Mr Dali is in a position to furnish us with a completed record," said Pakade.

Mani was arrested by the Serious Commercial Crime Unit of the Hawks in May 2018.

The trial has been plagued by delays right from start, mostly due to Mani's busy university study schedule.

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