By Luxolo Tyali NPA Regional Spokesperson Eastern Cape Division
The East London Regional Court has found Sibongile Mani guilty of theft. The Walter Sisulu University (WSU) student received more than R14 million into her student account from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and spent over R800 000.
She will serve five years imprisonment, subject to the provisions of Section 276 (1) i. of the Criminal Procedure Act.
That effectively means that Mani will serve one-sixth of the sentence in custody after which, subject to the discretion of the Commissioner of Correctional Services, she may be released to serve the rest of the sentence outside, by conditions the Commissioner may deem fit.
The court found that Mani knew that her actions were unlawful and therefore had the intent to commit fraud. Before the R14 million, which was deposited into her account erroneously, she never spent her R1400 monthly stipend on prohibited items in terms of the NSFAS funding rules.
However, she went on a 76-days spending spree, splurging over R800 000 on several prohibited items which included 11 blankets, nine bath sheets, various shorts for men, a variety of alcoholic drinks, cigarettes, 24 jackets and handbags. She also spent the money in different towns, which was proof that she had planned the theft.
The court found that the above matters and the fact that she was a student activist, who knew and understood the processes of student finances, demonstrated that she deliberately committed the theft and knew what she was doing was illegal.
Mani did not take the court into her confidence as she declined to testify during the trial, choosing to exercise her right to remain silent. As a result, the court predominantly relied on the evidence of the state to make a judgement. The court found the state’s evidence and version of events to be truthful and reliable.
The prosecution had prayed for a custodial sentence, even though the two pre-sentence reports prepared by the Department of Social Development and the Department of Correctional Services, respectively, had recommended a suspended sentence or correctional supervision.
The state submitted that the crime was motivated by greed not need; that white-collar crime was prevalent and ever increasing in South Africa, and should it go unpunished, it posed a serious threat to the democracy of the country because it stifles economic growth.
The state further argued that 585 deserving students could have gone hungry because of Mani’s actions and she could have caused more damage if the error was not picked up. She did not show any remorse but regret. The court agreed with the state and imposed a custodial sentence.
After the sentencing, the defence expressed its intention to appeal both the conviction and the sentence, and the case was provisionally postponed to 11 April for the appeal to be heard. The state will oppose the appeal, and the arguments for the opposition will be ventilated on when the appeal is heard. Mani remains out on bail.