By Malibongwe Dayimani for News24
Walter Sisulu University (WSU) student Sibongile Mani was found guilty of theft in connection with R14-million accidentally credited to her account by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) in 2017.
The East London Regional Court’s magistrate, Twanette Olivier, on Monday found Mani guilty of stealing R818 000 of the funds.
The court dismissed Mani’s version that she had no intention to deprive NSFAS of its money and that she had no knowledge of the specification of the loan agreement she had with NSFAS.
She was only entitled to a R1 400 food allowance and was accused of failing to report when R14-million was instead credited to her erroneously. She chose to embark on a spending spree.
Addressing Mani, Olivier said: “These actions speak of someone whom the court finds knows the system, how it is implemented and most specifically how it may be bypassed.
“It [the theft] was well-orchestrated. Your actions do not speak of a person who lacks knowledge. The evidence of each witness was clear and direct. Each witness testified on the certain aspect of the process followed by WSU, NSFAS and Intellimali per duties and tasks. Witness testimonies were further collaborated by documented evidence which was placed on record in detail.”
Olivier said she found the testimonies by State witnesses truthful and honest, and that the State’s version was reliable.
“The court finds that the accused’s version of events, in so far as it differs from that of State witnesses, to be unsatisfactory and false.
“No other inference can be drawn by the court, other than that the accused knew very well that her actions were unlawful, and the only other inference to be drawn is that she had the required intent to commit theft as required when applying the subjective test.
“This is said with reference to how she [Mani] managed to plan and orchestrate her unlawful actions with regards to times, places amounts and cities. Her actions do not reflect those of a person acting without intentions.
“Therefore, based on the above, Ms Mani you are found guilty as charged to theft in the amount R818 000.”
Mani was arrested in May 2018 by the Serious Commercial Crime Unit of the Hawks.
The case of theft was opened by Intellimali – a Cape Town-based company responsible for distributing the NSFAS funds to students.
She is accused of failing to report the error and embarked on a spending spree, blowing more than R800 000 in 73 days.
The State charged that between 1 June, when the money landed in her account, until 13 August, when NSFAS found out about the error, she had spent an average of R11 000 per day.
She ostensibly used the money at 48 merchants in Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Gauteng.
Olivier told Mani the receipts of her expenditure indicated that “you had definitely planned per day as to how much you can spend per day in as many places as possible on any given date.”
She added that it was remarkable how Mani managed to spend around R20 000 a day at merchants across the country. all in one day.
On perusal of Mani’s expenditure records, she spent:
- R178 923 at Discount Supermarket in Fleet Street, East London;
- R174 631 at Checkers Hyper supermarket in Centurion;
- R107 255 at Checkers Nonesi Mall in Komani;
- R68 116 at Shoprite on Caxton Street in East London; and
- R17 006 at Shoprite in George.
“What is, however, remarkable is that the accused managed to use the credit on one specific day at various outlets in various provinces on the same given date,” said Olivier.
Olivier noted that, on 1 June, all the spending occurred in East London and one transaction in George.
On perusing 3 June 2017, Olivier said Mani spent the money in East London, Komani, Thembalethu and Mthatha.
“9 June is even more remarkable as spending took place in East London, Komani and Centurion. 11 June spending took place in East London, Centurion, Benoni Lake.”
Prohibited items were also bought in Cradock, and included: 13 backpack trolleys, nine bath sheets and other accessories, eight bin items, 11 blankets, various blenders, body shots for men, ladies bras, an unaccountable amount of wine, from white wine, rose, semi-sweet, varying from 750ml to 5 litre boxes, cake plates, calculators, four hair straighteners, cook wear, cupcake makers, cutlery, dinner sets, 13 extensions cords, eight frying pans, five hairdryers, various handbags, six steam irons, iTunes gift cards, 24 jackets, 12 cordless kettles, track tops, ladies tops, 11 microwaves, framed mirrors, cigarettes, pants, Checkers gift cards, shoes, sleep sets, 10 ladies sleep items, slow cookers and eyelashes.
Olivier noted the evidence before the court included seven pages which recorded the expenditure on airtime from Vodacom, MTN and Cell C.
Sentencing is set for 8 March 2022.