Five years ago, a South African student embarked on a spending spree and treated herself to the good things of life after a bank error credited her account with about $1 million. On June 1, 2017, Sibongile Mani, who was then a student at South Africa’s Walter Sisulu University (WSU), received the payment for her monthly food allowance.
But while other students received their usual monthly allocation of R1‚400 ($100), she received in error, a payment of R14.1 million ($1 million), according to the local website Times Live. Investigations revealed that Mani was overpaid from the account of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) which gives out loans to students to be repaid after graduation.
The error was not discovered until sometime in August, and authorities said they would hold the student accountable for every dollar she (mis)spent.
Mani received the money from NSFAS through payment services firm IntelliMali, and instead of reporting the error, officials said she started spending the money on luxury items including weaves and mobile phones within two hours of receiving the money. At the time her account was blocked, she had used almost $70,000 in 48 places across the country, BBC reported.
On Wednesday, March 30, 2022, Mani was found guilty of theft and jailed for five years. East London Regional Magistrate Twanette, while delivering her judgment, said that the spending was inspired by “greed not need”.
“The only sentence that is appropriate is direct imprisonment,” she said, according to BBC.
However, many South Africans have condemned the five-year sentence given to Mani, saying it is harsh. The South African Union of Students believes that those who transferred the money into Mani’s account should also be held liable.
“The seems to be scapegoating and hiding from the broader corruption and criminal syndicate that exists, particularly around students and funding,” the student union’s president Asive Dlangwa said.
To others on social media, there is nothing wrong with what Mani did, considering the difficult living conditions of many people in South Africa where corruption is also rife.