NSFAS' R14m 'technical glitch': Another delay in case against student accused of theft

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Sibongile Mani. Photo: Lulama Zenzile
Sibongile Mani. Photo: Lulama Zenzile
  • The resignation of NSFAS CEO Steven Zwane in 2018 has delayed the trial against Sibongile Mani. 
  • The East London Regional Court postponed the trial to 15 July 2021.
  • The State will be calling NSFAS legal adviser Adam Williams to testify in the case.   

The resignation of NSFAS CEO Steven Zwane in 2018 has caused yet another delay in the trial against Walter Sisulu University student, Sibongile Mani.

She is accused of stealing a portion of a R14 million NSFAS fund amount after it was erroneously credited into her account in June 2017.

Magistrate Twanett Olivier on Wednesday postponed the trial to 15 July 2021 to allow the State time to subpoena a new witness in place of Zwane.

Zwane apparently cannot be located by the State.

The State has now been forced to call another witness, NSFAS legal adviser Adam Williams, to appear in person.

Mani's lawyer, Asanda Pakade, rejected a document, signed off by Williams, which was submitted by the State.

Pakade argued that the document, which contained slides of evidence, was compiled, signed and commissioned on 25 November 2019.

He said, despite having been in the possession of the State since the beginning of the trial in 2018, the document never formed part of the docket furnished to him.  

The magistrate ruled in favour of Pakade, regarding the submission of the document.

The prosecutor, advocate Luthando Makoyi, then successfully applied to subpoena Williams. He said it would also benefit Pakade, who would get a chance to cross-examine the witness.

The case was postponed to allow Makoyi time to have Williams appear before court.

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

Pakade expressed his disappointment over the continuous delays and criticised the State for not warning him prior to calling new witnesses.

While Olivier supported Pakade's argument, citing that Section 213(a) of the Criminal Procedure Act, that the defence is entitled to a two-day notice before submission of new evidence, she said it was also in the interest of justice to grant the State the order for a postponement in order to call a witness.

Makoyi told the court he was forced to introduce Williams as a witness at the last minute, when he learnt that Zwane had left NSFAS. 

"Mr Zwane, unfortunately, left the employment of NSFAS as CEO and the State struggled to locate him. Owing to the kind of evidence we need to present in court, we took other options that are available at our disposal to accommodate the challenge of losing Mr Zwane.

"Mr Williams is a legal adviser of NSFAS and we believe he is authorised, and took information from the records of NSFAS, which form part of the contents of evidence before  this court," said Makoyi.  

Pakade rejected Makoyi's "unacceptable excuse", saying it was a well-known fact that Zwane resigned three years ago.

Olivier conceded there were far too many delays in the trial and vowed the postponement would be the last one.

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

A case of theft was opened by Intelimali - a Cape Town-based company responsible for distributing NSFAS funds to students.   

This was after R14 million was accidentally credited into Mani's student account on 1 June 2017. She was meant to receive her monthly R1 400 meal allowance.

She is accused of failing to report the error and embarking on a spending spree of R820 000 in 73 days.

Intelimali director Roy Jackson had testified in court that the error was believed to have been caused by a technical glitch.

He also previously testified that three institutions - Public Protector, Department of Higher Education and auditors Ernst & Young - all launched investigations into how the mistake happened, but could not finger anyone for wrongdoing.

When Jackson was asked by Makoyi why he had opened a case against Mani, if no one was responsible for the incident, Jackson told the court it was because not only did Intelimali reimburse the university for the R820 000 spent by Mani, it also paid Ernst & Young R500 000 to investigate the incident. 

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