The sobbing grandmother of Walter Sisulu University (WSU) student Sibongile Mani has pleaded for her to be forgiven, but is also disappointed that she did not at least build her a house with the money.
Nombulelo Mani (67), who lives in Queenstown, raised Sibongile (27) from the time she was six years old.
Mani says Sibongile grew up an innocent child and the news that she spent hundreds of thousands of rand that was not hers had come as a shock.
Sibongile, a second-year accountancy student at WSU, situated in the Eastern Cape, “mistakenly” received R14.1m in June from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) instead of the monthly R1 400 she was entitled to for meals and books.
Three months on, Sibongile has spent R818 000 living the high life, hosting parties for friends and buying Peruvian wigs, designer clothes, handbags and expensive smartphones.
Sibongile, who is the branch secretary of the Pan Africanist Student Movement of Azania at East London’s Potsdam campus, transformed her life from ordinary student to that of a socialite.
A neighbour in Ilinge village, near Queenstown, broke the news to grandma Mani on Tuesday.
“I have been very ill since I heard this story,” she said, sobbing.
“I just arrived from the doctor. Neighbours have been coming to pray for me. I don’t know what this child got herself into. I have not been able to sleep.”
After she moved to Ilinge from Springbok, Mani continued caring for Sibongile until she matriculated. Sibongile’s mother lives and works in George, Western Cape.
The pensioner said it would have been better if Sibongile had used the money wisely instead of wasting it on extravagant things.
“She should have built me a house instead of buying hair and such nonsense. At least we would have been able to say this is what she did with the money. I worked many years to raise her and now she wastes money on such things,” she said.
Mani said she had been trying to call Sibongile, but her phone has been on voicemail. City Press’ attempts to reach Sibongile this week failed because her phone was either on voicemail or rang unanswered.
Mani’s house is old and dilapidated. Half of the structure is made of brick and the other half, of corrugated iron. Large bricks have been placed on the roof to prevent it being blown away by wind.
The house has no electricity and Mani has to walk about a kilometre to fetch water from a communal tap.
But this is not the house Sibongile returns to during university holidays. She stays with another family on the next street.
"She was my hope and light"
When City Press visited the house, an angry woman who identified herself as the homeowner and the mother of Sibongile’s friend, said she took the student in as a family friend.
She emerged from a newly built house in the back yard; the house in front is undergoing major renovations. The woman said she was very upset about neighbourhood rumours that her renovations were being funded with Nsfas money.
“I have been renovating my house way before June, when she got the money. I am upset because people are saying this house is built with R14m from Nsfas. No, this is really annoying. I did not work today. I have a headache. I am a teacher. I just don’t want to talk. Let investigators come; they will see I am using my own money here,” she fumed.
The pensioner said she expected better from the granddaughter she raised on her domestic worker’s wages.
“I thought this child would be the one who would get me out of the misery. She was my hope and light,” she said.
“All I want is for her to come back home so that I can see her with my eyes and talk to her. I love her and I would not forsake her even during this difficult time.”
Mani says those who gave Mani the money should be blamed instead. “They must just please forgive my child. She was tempted by the devil and I am sure she did not mean to do what she did.
“This child grew up poor. What was she supposed to do?”
A WSU student, who claimed to be a friend of Sibongile and identified himself only as September, said Sibongile was too distraught to speak.
“We are together now here in East London. She wants to tell her side of the story but is not emotionally ready. This whole saga has taken its toll on her. She is still weak emotionally, and is traumatised. She has not run away,” he said.
It was reported on Friday that the Special Investigating Unit was considering obtaining a proclamation from President Jacob Zuma to probe the matter.
WSU spokesperson Yonela Tukwayo said they would welcome any external forensic investigation.
“As a university we are very disappointed that the student – knowing very well that the money was not supposed to be in her account – still went on to spend that money,” said Tukwayo.
“The good thing is that these are independent forensic investigations, so the university, the service provider and the student would be investigated.
“But also, quite importantly, the merchants where the transactions were taking place will also be investigated.”
Tukwayo said the Intellicard which Sibongile used on her spending spree was highly restricted. This card is owned by WSU service provider IntelliMali, which distributes Nsfas funds to students.
“You can only buy in selected grocery stores and at pre-approved merchants and selected bookshops. So, how was she then able to cash in that money?
“From what we have picked up on from her social-media presence, she was displaying expensive brand items that a Nsfas beneficiary should not have access to – iPhones, for example. It seems she was able to cash in the money and she should not have been able to do so.”
TALK TO US
Who do you think should be held accountable over what happened?
SMS us on 35697 using the keyword STUDENT and tell us what you think. Include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50