And how the R14 000 000 bun­gle ended in tears

It was party, party, party for Miss ManiBags — fol­lowed by a big hang­over

Sunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - By SIPHE MACANDA

For a short while Si­bongile Mani was the queen bee of her own celebrity bub­ble.

The 27-year-old ac­count­ing stu­dent at Wal­ter Sisulu Univer­sity in East Lon­don doled out favours to friends who slugged back shots of whisky — the kind that costs R700 a bot­tle.

Miss ManiBags and her posse swag­gered around wear­ing ex­pen­sive weaves, show­ing off iPhone 7s and other sig­nals of suc­cess. Mani is ac­cused of wear­ing a R3 000 Peru­vian weave and ar­riv­ing at lec­tures in de­signer clothes.

Then the Beyoncé fan­tasy burst, leav­ing Mani with the worst hang­over of her life.

Alerted au­thor­i­ties

Her po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents at the univer­sity let the cat out of the bag. Mani’s bank ac­count had bal­looned from a R1 400-a-month stu­dent loan to R14-mil­lion — and she was spend­ing it like Grace Mu­gabe.

Although Mani now claims she alerted au­thor­i­ties to the sur­prise bo­nanza, records show that she im­me­di­ately grabbed her bank card and em­barked on a spend­ing spree that amounted to R11 000 a day.

She squan­dered R818 000 in 73 days. At that rate it would have taken her four years to spend it all.

Mani is now heav­ily in debt and fac­ing pos­si­ble crim­i­nal charges.

Her spend­ing spree cre­ated a me­dia frenzy with head­lines across the world. It sparked hun­dreds of memes and even prompted a par­ody Twit­ter ac­count un­der the name Si­bongile Money.

Af­ter promis­ing to speak to the Sun­day Times, the baby-faced stu­dent ac­tivist claimed — in a soft, quiv­er­ing voice — that she was not well. She then broke down in tears be­fore flee­ing.

In an SMS she later in­formed the Sun­day Times that she was see­ing a psy­chol­o­gist to help her through the trauma.

Crim­i­nal com­plaint

Mani is said to have per­formed a tra­di­tional cer­e­mony weeks af­ter mis­tak­enly re­ceiv­ing the mil­lions. Last month she re­turned to her grand­par­ents’ home in Ilinge vil­lage near her home­town of Queen­stown. There the cer­e­mony was per­formed and at­tended by some of her friends.

A neigh­bour of her grand­par­ents said the com­mu­nity had been sur­prised to hear about her wind­fall.

Her woes look far from over af­ter In­tel­liMali, the com­pany which dis­trib­utes stu­dent funds, said it would lay a crim­i­nal com­plaint against Mani.

Some of Mani’s fel­low stu­dents have ral­lied around her. Lon­wabo Si­bonde, a mem­ber of the South African Stu­dents Congress, said the univer­sity’s stu­dent rep­re­sen­ta­tive coun­cil would pro­tect her from ac­tion by au­thor­i­ties.

SRC mem­ber Samkele Mqai, who re­vealed Mani’s wind­fall, said sus­pi­cions arose af­ter a re­ceipt from a Spar store had been leaked show­ing a bal­ance of just over R13.6mil­lion in her ac­count.

“Af­ter the slip was trend­ing on so­cial net­works, stu­dents started con­nect­ing the dots on how she had been living a lux­u­ri­ous life,” said Mqai.

“She threw sur­prise birth­day par­ties for her friends and used some of the money to fly to events like the Dur­ban July.”

He said he did not be­lieve Mani’s as­ser­tion that she had re­ported the mas­sive pay­ment to the SRC.

Pic­ture: Sino Ma­jangaza

Friends form a pro­tec­tive screen around Si­bongile Mani this week.

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