Oh what a tangled web of (virgin Peruvian) weave

Andrew Donaldson on WSU student Sibongile Mani's NSFAS financed splurge


THE politics of hair can be a fraught, nit-picking business. Which is perhaps why we’ve tended to avoid the issue until now. 

But who knew the morally destructive allure of the virgin Peruvian weave? 

Certainly, and until fairly recently, none of the regulars at the Mahogany Ridge had any idea of such things. To be honest, we weren’t even sure if there were even virgins in Peru. Or at least none old enough or in sufficient number to meet the growing demand for the natural and unprocessed texture of their weaves.

Perhaps, like the rhino, they are also endangered, and it is only by trading in their tufty clumps that we can save the Peruvian maiden from extinction.

Whatever the case, it was a desire for these tresses that led to the public shaming this week of Sibongile Mani, the 27-year-old Walter Sisulu University student into whose account some R14.1-million from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme had erroneously been deposited on June 1.

There came a splurge, and in 73 days Mani blew R818 000 on designer clothes, smart phones for herself and friends, parties where the cheapest whisky served was Johnnie Walker Gold and nights out in clubs where the Evian flowed like water (although that’s not strictly correct; it wasn’t Evian but posh booze.)

Fellow students took notice. Especially those who weren’t invited. But, for all this, it was apparently only when Mani turned out in public with new hair that the wheels came off her shopping trolley.

Samkelo Mqhayi, a South African Students Congress deputy branch secretary and a student support officer with the WSU SRC, has boasted that it is he who “outed” her. 

“She used to sport neat cornrows,” he was quoted as saying, “but she had recently started wearing a R3 000 Peruvian weave.”

Until the new hair, and befitting her position as secretary of the WSU branch of the Pan Africanist Student Movement of Azania, Mani could regularly be seen in the livery of that organisation: a T-shirt with the slogan: “Mobilize, Educate and Strive for Free Socialist Education.”

Further investigation reveals that Pasma is indeed “guided and rooted in the philosophy of Marxism-Leninism (dialectical materialism , scientific socialism and proletarian internationalism ) which is total liberation of all humanity through the working class revolution and establishment and construction of classless society…”

Noble as these ideals may seem on paper, at least to some of us, the reality is sadly a different matter altogether, and an all-too distressingly familiar modern South African morality tale. 

Simply put, the money corrupts everything. And the fact that it is always someone else’s money that is squandered and frittered away is often illogically cited by the profligate as an excuse for their behaviour: It’s not their fault they spent our money. What else were they to do? It was just sitting there.

As Mani told the Daily Dispatch, “It is very clear I didn’t make the error, so call WSU and NSFAS.” She has further defended herself by taking to social media to declare, “As a responsible person and a member of Pasma, I went straight to the SRC to report this matter.”

And, like too many public figures before her, Mani has questioned why her behaviour should now be regarded a matter of public interest. 

It is notable that she has directed journalists covering the story to approach the university with their inquiries. Mani is a second-year accountancy student, but it seems she has been taught regrettably very little in the way of money management at WSU, and this may yet be a further indication of falling education standards.

In this regard, a closer analysis of Mani’s rather prosaic spree has been suggested; taken at face value, it does after all seem that a lot of money has been thrown away on pedestrian crap. But this is perhaps a fruitless exercise: WSU is in Mthatha, and what can one buy of any worth in that economically battered region of the Eastern Cape anyway?

But, to give credit where it’s due, Mani had a fair old bash at her accidental windfall. “It’s difficult,” the Times newspaper quoted her as saying, “very difficult but I will get through [it].”

She was reportedly spending some R11 000 a day. At this rate, and presuming she wasn’t earning too much in interest, she would have waded through it inside of four years. She may even have graduated by then.

One can’t help imagining, however, that a student at the better sort of university would have disposed of the money in half the time.

This article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.