Student jailed for spending almost $1M in student aid on luxury goods

South African university student fears for her life post R14 million euphoria
Sibongile Mani, center, is seen fleeing a media conference as angry students demand that she pay back National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) money she spent after a clerical error dumped $1 million in her bank account, in a September 4, 2017 file photo taken in East London, South Africa. (Foto24/Getty)

Johannesburg — A South African college student was sentenced to prison this week for going on a months-long spending spree with almost a million dollars of student aid dumped into her bank account due to a clerical error. With her hands folded defiantly in court, former second year accounting student Sibongile Mani was sentenced to five years in prison Wednesday for stealing the funds from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.

A clerical error meant instead of a $96 monthly food allowance being deposited into her account, close to $1 million was transferred on June 1, 2017.

Judge Twanette Olivier found Mani guilty of stealing the funds and slapped her with the prison sentence, and a stunning admonishment.

“You, and yourself, made the decision on June 1, 2017, and you did so repeatedly for 73 consecutive days, numerous times per day,” the judge told Mani in court.

Mani spent close to $1,000 a day on handbags, alcohol and clothing, racking up charges across the country before the fund noticed the error on August 13 and reported her.

Other students from Walter Sisulu University claim they blew the whistle on Mani’s scheme after growing suspicious of the sudden change in her lifestyle. They said she transformed suddenly into a glamorous woman with an expensive weave, a new iPhone and a penchant for expensive whiskey.

The judge said Mani had “malicious intent,” adding that it was remarkable how much money Mani had managed to spend each day at 48 different stores across the country.

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Education Secretary on student loans, “Don’t Say Gay” bill and supporting students during the pandemic. (CBS)

Judge Olivier said 585 students who rely on the fund to study at Walther Sisulu University, which Mani attended at the time, would have suffered themselves if the company that distributed the funds had not paid back the money Mani spent.

Mani claimed she had no knowledge of the specifics of her loan agreement and never meant to steal money earmarked for other needy students.

The Court dismissed her version of events, with the judge saying the money was “not spent on essential items to stay alive – it was inspired by greed, not need.”

Mani will serve one third of the five-year sentence before she’s eligible for parole consideration.

The story has dominated local headlines and radio talk shows in South Africa since the sentence was handed down, with many callers voicing outrage.

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