What Happened to the Lady Who Got R14 Million from NSFAS?

By Tevait Feanle •  Updated: 03/15/24 •  5 min read

We have often mentioned in our helpful NSFAS articles that the application process will stringently verify your details. This can seem like an annoying part of submitting your application- but there’s a good reason for it. When these checks are not performed as they should be, fraud and other illegal activities can happen. If you’re curious about the highest-profile incidence of misuse and theft of NSFAS funds, we have all the details you’re looking for. 

What Happened to the Lady Who Got R14 Million from NSFAS?

In 2017, an Eastern Cape student accidentally had a lot of NSFAS money transferred to her account. Instead of immediately informing the fund of the error, which occurred when a third-party firm NSFAS used at the time made an administration mistake, she decided to go on a spending spree. She fraudulently used R818,000 of the mistaken money. Adding error to error, the company only discovered the error two months later. 

While her purchases, which you can learn more about below, were well-intentioned and simple, aiming to better her life and others rather than live in the lap of luxury, this was still a criminal use of funds clearly not intended for her. Two social service departments in South Africa, the Department of Social Development and the Department of Correctional Services believed she should only receive a suspended sentence due to this reasonably frugal and well-meant use of the money. 

However, concerned about the boom in corruption and fraudulent activities in South Africa, as well as the rise in white-collar crime, the court opted to sentence her to direct imprisonment instead. They argued that the whole purpose of the NSFAS funding she was legitimately due was to ensure an escape from poverty circumstances while furthering her education.

It’s worth noting that she was a postgraduate recipient of NSFAS funding at the time, with several useful degrees, including accounting and education, as well as an internal audit diploma, so there is no argument that she was young or in a position to not understand the implication of her misuse of the error, but some do feel she was made a scapegoat for the failings on the admin side of the company authorized by NSFAS.

How Much did Sibongile Mani Receive?

The woman, whose name is Sibongile Mani, accidentally received R14 million from the NSFAS fund- money that should have been helping students to pursue their tertiary education. She was supposed to receive her R1,400 food stipend towards other student costs of living. This is why both the Department of Social Development and the Department of Correctional Services both recommended a suspended sentence. However, the court saw fit to enact a harsher sentence.

Where is Sibongile Mani Now?

Despite erroneous reports of her passing, Sibongile Mani is alive and well, although she still has to face some harsh consequences for her fraud. She is serving her 5-year jail sentence and will be required to pay back the misused money. A local businessman going by the moniker Malcolm X has pledged half a million rand towards the settlement of this debt on her behalf.

What did Sibongile Mani Buy?

While Sibongile Mani was in the wrong for spending what was obviously not her money, she did have good intentions at heart. At least if you believe some sources! Some of the money was supposedly spent on vouchers for poor students who didn’t have NSFAS funding. She also bought things for her grandmother and to improve her family life, including furniture like a couch and bed and learning materials for her children.

However, there are also reports that the cash was spent on luxury flights, new iPhones, top-end whiskey costing thousands of rands, and brand-name clothing, so despite her more altruistic gestures, her behaviour was clearly in the wrong, and she cannot have believed the money was hers to spend, especially given her background. Let alone on such items. Even her grandmother had much to say about such frivolous spending.  It is this luxurious spending without an income source that first alerted the Hawks unit to the fraud. 

How Old is Sibongile Mani?

In 2024, Sibongile was 31 and a single mother of two children. She has other dependents, too, and was the first in her family to attend university. 

While it is possible to have a lot of sympathy for Sibongile Mani, who was born in very poor circumstances and faces a harsh sentence, she’s also an object lesson in the risks that come with acting fraudulently. It is very difficult to justify any view that she didn’t understand that what she was doing was fraudulent, given extensive accounting and audit education, and her wasteful luxury spending spree was what brought her down in the end. Seeing a case like this makes it very easy to understand exactly why NSFAS is so strict on documentation and proof during the application phase- and how not to treat the lifeline given to you by the NSFAS bursary, which is there to help you make a better life honestly. 

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