NSFAS theft case: Sibongile Mani 'is only guilty of being black and poor' - student supporters

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Convicted Walter Sisulu University (WSU) student Sibongile Mani
Convicted Walter Sisulu University (WSU) student Sibongile Mani
Malibongwe Dayimani
  • The sentencing of convicted student Sibongile Mani has been postponed because a social worker's pre-sentencing report is still outstanding.
  • Mani was convicted of theft after she failed to report that more than R14 million in National Student Financial Aid Scheme funds was mistakenly deposited into her student account.
  • About 100 students gathered to support Mani at the East London Magistrate's Court on Tuesday.

Supporters of convicted Walter Sisulu University (WSU) student Sibongile Mani, who splurged nearly R1 million in National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funds that were erroneously paid into her account, claim Mani is being "persecuted" for being black and poor. 

More than R14 million in NSFAS funds was mistakenly deposited into Mani's student account on 1 June 2017 and she failed to report it. Instead, she went on a two-month spending spree.  

Last month, she was found guilty of theft of R818 000 of the money.

On Tuesday, WSU students and supporters of 32-year-old Mani gathered outside the East London Magistrate's Court where sentencing proceedings were once again postponed by Magistrate Twannet Olivier.

READ Walter Sisulu University student found guilty of stealing NSFAS money

Olivier postponed the matter to 29 March after State Advocate Luthando Makoyi informed the court that a Department of Social Development pre-sentencing report was still outstanding.

Makoyi told the court that a social worker who was tasked with interviewing Mani to help the court determine a suitable sentence, had completed her work but still needed to take her report to a panel of social development officials for scrutiny. The report is meant to reveal whether or not Mani is remorseful.

Makoyi also said a Department of Correctional Services report was completed and handed over to him. It is meant to advise the court whether Mani is best suited for a direct prison sentence or correctional supervision. 

ALSO READ 'The Guptas ran away with billions' - public slams NPA for targeting 'poor' student over NSFAS funds

Mani, who appeared to be in high spirits as she took selfies with her supporters outside the court, refused to comment.

Pan African Student Movement of Azania (Pasma) national secretary-general and post-graduate WSU student, Zandisiwe Nyimbana, said Mani's only sin was that she was black and poor.

Nyimbana added:

We are here to pledge solidarity with her because we believe she is only guilty for being black and poor. We believe the justice system is not fair, that she is the only one being persecuted. There is no one being investigated from the side of the service provider Intellimali

Nyimbana added that Mani was victimised in every way possible over a human error. 

"There is no theft involved here. The person behind the button that erroneously released R14 million instead of R1 400 should also be brought to book," Nyimbana said.      

Mani was a branch secretary of Pasma and later a chairperson.

Around 100 students clad in WSU colours and wearing Pasma T-shirts sang and cheered outside the court. 

WSU student representative council president Bathandwa Mangisa said the court should reverse the guilty verdict.

"The general feeling of students is that the justice system of this country is no longer just. The justice system is so consistent in persecuting the recipient, not the depositor of the funds. Sibongile never deposited the money into her account," Mangisa said.

ALSO READ NSFAS theft: No one to blame for erroneous transfer of R14m to student, court hears

Asked what he would like to see take place, Mangisa said: "We want to see Mani declared not guilty."

"We want to see the real criminals who deposited the money being persecuted."

Olivier said she found the testimony of State witnesses to be truthful, honest and reliable. 

Mani, an accounting graduate and now trainee accounting school teacher, was arrested in May 2018 by the Hawks' Serious Commercial Crime team.

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

She was only entitled to a R1 400 food allowance.

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