Student is spared jail after blowing £50,000 on partying, clothes and a beauty spending spree in South Africa when she received £850,000 instead of her £85 monthly grant by mistake
- Scholar Sibongile Mani, 32, relied on benefits to pay for her studies
- But a government support program wrongly awarded her R14 million
A student who was mistakenly given £850,000 instead of her usual monthly food grant of £85 and lost £50,000 of it in a 73-day period has escaped from prison.
32-year-old scholar Sibongile Mani, who relied on benefits to pay for her studies, couldn’t believe it when a government aid program gave her 10,000 times too much money.
When she checked her bank account in South Africa, the poor student saw that she had become a multi-millionaire overnight, with R14 million to her name.
The delighted accountancy student decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth and underwent an astonishing Cinderella-esque transformation overnight as she flashed the cash.
32-year-old scholar Sibongile Mani, who relied on benefits to pay for her studies, couldn’t believe it when a government aid program gave her 10,000 times too much money
When she checked her bank account in South Africa, the impoverished student saw that she had become a multi-millionaire overnight
Her new lifestyle, which saw her blowing around £666 a day – a small fortune in South Africa – quickly started to raise eyebrows
Swapping her old wardrobe for designer fashion, she bought herself and her friends the latest iPhones and swapped her cheap cornrow haircut for £200 a pop of Peruvian weaves.
Bargain beers at the Walter Sisulu University bar in Mthatha, Eastern Cape, were exchanged for £100 bottles of whiskey at swanky venues where they partied for several nights.
But her new lifestyle, which saw her lose a small fortune of £666 a day in South African terms, soon began to raise eyebrows.
And Mani was caught when she left a receipt at a supermarket showing she had more than £800,000 in her bank and was reported to the police.
She was arrested in 2017 and charged with theft and fraud, and sentenced to 5 years in prison in 2022 after losing 818,000 rand – equivalent to almost £50,000 in 2017.
After her conviction, she wrote on her personal blog that she saw it as “miracle money” and a “gift from God” and “didn’t think twice” about whether it was wrong to spend it.
But her lawyer, Mr Asanda Pakade, appealed on the grounds that Mani was not a danger to society, she had not sought the money and was not a candidate for overcrowded prisons.
He said the National Student Financial Aid Scheme wrongly sent her R14 million and did not even notice such a staggering amount was missing until students alerted them.
Appearing before the East London High Court in Makhanda, two judges agreed to suspend the five-year prison sentence provided she does not commit theft or fraud during that time.
The newly married mother-of-two was also told to complete 14 weeks of community service and undergo counselling, but was sensationally told she did not have to pay back the money she spent.
She wrote on her personal blog that she saw it as “miracle money” and a “gift from God” and “didn’t think twice” about whether it was wrong to spend it
Mani was caught when she left a receipt at a supermarket showing she had more than £800,000 in her bank and was reported to the police.
Mani’s lawyer Pakade said afterwards: ‘She is very relieved and very happy that she does not have to go to prison and wants to put all this behind her and start over.
“She is putting her life back together, which was left in tatters, and is looking forward to starting over and is very grateful that the court made the decisions she did,” he said.
South African Students Congress branch secretary Mr Samkelo Mqhayi, who reported Mani to NSFAS, told Herald Live at the time: “She just suddenly spent so much.
“Her leaked supermarket receipt revealed that she had R13.6 million in her account and that she had organized parties for her friends and showered them with gifts without any worries.”
A fellow student said at the time: ‘One minute Sibongile was struggling, penniless and struggling, and the next minute she was living a lavish lifestyle with seemingly no bottom in her pocket.
‘She got very glamorous in expensive dresses with the jewelery and the handbags and we thought she had won the lottery, but I think she had in a way.
“The student bar was no longer her place, but champagne and whiskey clubs,” she said.
- The figures quoted in the above story date from 2017, at the time of the offence, when the exchange rate of the Rand to the £ was 16.5. The figures provided were correct at the time of the violation.