Sibongile Mani dodged jail time. The Walter Sisulu University (WSU) student, who mistakenly received R14 million instead of her usual R1,400 monthly NSFAS grant, managed to avoid a five-year jail sentence for her actions.
For a student reliant on NSFAS benefits to support her education, the sight of a whopping 10,000-fold increase in her bank balance was astonishing. She refrained from questioning the windfall and indulged herself with R818,000 in luxuries, including designer clothes, handbags, an iPhone, and various alcoholic beverages in different parts of South Africa.
Mani’s extravagant spending spree eventually drew attention when she inadvertently left behind a supermarket receipt revealing the remaining balance in her account, which led to her arrest on theft and fraud charges in August 2017.
Her initial conviction and sentencing to five years in prison in March 2022 sparked controversy, with some considering it unduly harsh for a South African court. Her lawyer, Asanda Pakade, appealed the conviction and sentence because NSFAS had erroneously disbursed the R14 million and had not noticed the error until it was brought to their attention. He also argued that Mani was not a willing recipient of the money and posed no threat to society.
In a surprising turn of events, acting Judge Sally Collett and Judge Nozuko Mjali set aside the original sentence and replaced it with a suspended five-year sentence under correctional supervision, along with three and a half weeks of community service, provided Mani refrains from committing theft or fraud during this time.
The court also ordered her to attend regular counselling and rehabilitative programs offered by the Department of Correctional Services. It stipulated that she could not leave Komani without approval from correctional services.
Mani, a just-married mother of two, expressed relief and happiness at not having to serve prison time. She looks forward to rebuilding her life and starting anew while expressing gratitude for the court’s decision.
Picture: Facebook / Sibongile Mani
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