NSFAS theft: Person to blame for mistaken transfer of R14m to student, court hears


Sibongile Mani photographed in 2017.

Gallo Images / Die Burger / Lulama Zenzile

  • Three forensic investigations into how R14m was transferred to convicts Sibongile Mani, a student at Walter Sisulu University, returned without conclusion.
  • The 31-year-old was found guilty of theft after spending R818,000 of the R14million instead of reporting the wrong transfer.
  • Mani will be sentenced for theft on March 8.

The magistrate in the case of a Walter Sisulu University student, who illegally used National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funds, says she found the testimony of state witnesses to be true, honest and reliable.

On Monday, East London Regional Court Magistrate Twannet Olivier found Sibongile Mani, 31, guilty of stealing R818,000 of the R14 million that was accidentally transferred to his account in 2017.

She was only entitled to a food allowance of R1,400 and was charged with failing to report the transfer.

Mani chose to go on a spending spree.

READ | Walter Sisulu University student found guilty of stealing NSFAS money

The accounting graduate was arrested in May 2018 by the Hawks’ Serious Commercial Crime Unit.

A theft case has been opened by Intellimali, a Cape Town-based company responsible for distributing NSFAS funds to students.

In rendering his judgment, Olivier said each witness’s evidence was clear and direct, and each testified to some aspect of the processes followed by the university, NSFAS, and Intellimali by function and task.

She added that the testimonies of the witnesses were further supplemented by documented evidence which was recorded in detail.

In his August 1, 2019 testimony, 62-year-old Intellimali director Roy Jackson told the court that the Public Protector, auditors Ernst & Young and the Department of Higher Education and Training had investigated how Mani got the R14 million.

However, he said, they could not figure out who was at fault.

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Jackson told the court that the mispayment was due to a system error caused by a “ridiculous or nonsensical” technical glitch or a hacker.

When asked by prosecutor Luthando Makoyi why he decided to open a criminal investigation against Mani, Jackson replied that it was because Intellimali had suffered financially from not reporting the error immediately.

He added that not only had Intellimali transferred 820,000 rand used by Mani to the university, but had hired Ernst & Young for 500,000 rand to launch an investigation that held no one responsible.

On July 15, 2021, a former senior NSFAS official, Adam Williams, told the court that he could not confirm that corrupt activity led to Mani mistakenly obtaining the R14 million.

Williams, a former senior director of the NSFAS legal department, said that unless there was an element of corruption, the case against Mani would be a civil matter, not a criminal one.

READ ALSO | I cannot confirm wrongdoing in wrongful transfer of R14m to student, ex-NSFAS official told court

He also told the court that the NSFAS transferred 100 million rand to the university in 2017 after insisting it could handle the administration of student funds.

However, the university hired a service provider – Intellimali – who mistakenly transferred R14 million of the money to a single female student instead of giving her the required R1,400.

Williams added that NSFAS had no control over third-party service providers, including the one that made the mistake, Intellimali.

He said an initial payment of around R100 million was made to the university by the NSFAS.

Williams added that the millions given to the university for student aid came from the Department of Further Education and Training.

The state’s last witness was the university’s chief financial officer, Morgan Nhiwatiwa, who told the court that he was the acting chief financial officer of the NSFAS when the erroneous transfer occurred.

He said he only joined the university in 2019.

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