A student who mistakenly received £850,000 ($1m) instead of a £85 ($100) monthly food grant and spent £50,000 in 73 days, has been pardoned from spending time in jail.
Scholar Sibongile Mani, who was relying on benefits for education, was stunned when government aid sent her 10,000 times the intended amount, making her an overnight millionaire with 14 million rands in her South African bank account.
When she discovered a windfall of 14 million rands had hit her account, the accountancy student decided to embark on lavish spending, according to the Daily Mail.
She first began with her wardrobe. She traded her old clothes for designer fashion and bought the latest iPhones for herself and her friends. Aside from that, she upgraded from a cheap cornrow hairstyle to luxurious £200-a-time Peruvian weaves.
Her lifestyle soon caught the attention of locals when she started spending as much as £666 a day, which is considered a fortune for an average South African. Her cover was blown when she left a receipt behind at the supermarket which revealed she had a whopping £800,000 in her bank account. The issue was brought to the attention of the police.
She was apprehended in 2017 and charged with theft and fraud. The court sentenced her to five years in prison after spending 818,000 rand – equivalent to nearly £50,000 ($61,000) in 2017. She explained after her sentencing that she assumed the money was a gift from God and didn’t carefully think through the situation before spending the funds.
But Mani’s counsel Asanda Pakade appealed her sentence and asserted she was no flight risk and she had not fraudulently acquired the money. It would be improper to place her in an overcrowded correctional center on such grounds, the counsel argued.
He explained that if anyone was at fault it was the national student financial aid scheme that had wrongly disbursed 14 million rand into her account and were unaware of the mistake until their attention was drawn to it by students.
Judges at East London High Court in Makhanda suspended her 5-year prison sentence, contingent on the premise that Mani will avoid theft or fraud during the specified period.
The newlywed mother-of-two was ordered to complete 14 weeks of community service and undergo counseling, but, interestingly was spared from repaying the money she had already spent as part of her sentencing.
Commenting on the sentencing, her lawyer said he was happy with the court decision and hopes Mani will put the past behind her and start life from a new beginning. Zambian Observer