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Student jailed for five years for spending Sh8m erroneously sent to her account

Sibongile Mani was sentenced on Wednesday in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. [Courtesy, Mark Andrews]

A university student who went on a months-long spending spree in 2017 after Sh110 million was deposited into her student account erroneously has been sentenced to five years in jail by a court in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Sibongile Mani, a mother of two and former second-year accounting student at Walter Sisulu University (WSU), was sentenced on Wednesday for spending Sh8 million of the Sh110 million sent to her due to a clerical error by IntelliMali, a National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) payment service provider.

According to News24, Mani was to receive Sh11,000 food and study allowance from NSFAS through IntelliMali in June 2017 but received Sh110 million instead.

The court heard that instead of reporting that the money was credited to her account erroneously, Mani started spending it immediately, blowing Sh8 million in a span of 73 days across 48 shopping spots in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Gauteng before her account was frozen.

The 31-year-old was arrested in May 2018 by South Africa's Serious Commercial Crime Unit after IntelliMali filed a theft claim with the police.

In handing down the sentence, East London Regional Court Magistrate Twanette Olivier said the receipts of her expenditure indicated that she spent an average of Sh87,000 per day on, among others, luxury goods, weaves, mobile phones, bedding, boxer briefs, alcohol, cigarettes, jackets and a variety of handbags.

Olivier said Mani was not a victim of an impoverished background but had "malicious intent", depriving NSFAS of its money thus prejudicing students who relied on NSFAS funds to study at WSU.

The magistrate highlighted that the money was ‘not spent on essential items to stay alive’ noting that it was remarkable how much Mani could spend per day in as many places as possible on any given date.

"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… You, and only yourself, made that decision on June 1, 2017, you did so repeatedly, for 73 consecutive days, numerous times per day," ruled Oliver.

"You were rushing against time to spend the maximum amount before it's spoilt or brought to [an end]. Those were conscious decisions you took every day, not the court," added the judge. "The only sentence that is appropriate is direct imprisonment, and you are therefore sentenced to a term of five years."

Sibongile Mani’s lawyer, Asanda Pakade, has since launched an appeal of the conviction and sentence.