The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has expressed its endorsement of the reduction in the penalty imposed on the student who illicitly misappropriated funds from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

Staff Reporters

The NPA released a statement expressing its approval of the ruling made by the Eastern Cape Division of the High Court. The court overturned Sibongile Mani’s sentence and instead imposed a five-year suspended prison term, with the condition that she does not commit fraud or theft during the suspension period.

Mani, a Walter Sisulu University (WSU) student who received more than R14 million into her student account from NSFAS and went on a spending spree, using R800 000 of it, was convicted of theft and sentenced on 30 March 2022 by the East London Regional Court.

She tried to appeal her conviction for theft, but the High Court dismissed her appeal. But it set aside the sentence imposed by the East London Regional Court.

However, both courts found that Mani knew 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. 

But, she went on a 76-day 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. 

Mani 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 financial aid, demonstrated that she deliberately committed the theft and knew that what she was doing was wrong.

“Mani did not take the court into her confidence as she declined to testify during the trial, therefore, she chose to exercise her right of remaining silent. 

“As a result, the court predominantly relied on the evidence of the state to make a judgement. The Regional court found the state’s evidence and version of events to be truthful and reliable, and the appeal court found the same,” the NPA said in a statement.   

The High Court sentenced Mani to a suspended five-year imprisonment term, on condition that she is not convicted of an offence involving fraud or theft during the period of suspension. 

In addition, she has been sentenced to undergo three years of correctional supervision, to perform 576 hours of community service without compensation, at a community institution, to attend regular counselling and rehabilitative programmes offered by the Department of Correctional Services, and to be monitored by a correctional official, as delegated by the Head of Community Corrections in Queenstown (Komani).

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