The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) learns with shock the sentencing of Sibongile Mani to 5 years of direct imprisonment, having been found guilty of theft of R818 000.

Miss Mani is a former student whose account was mistakenly credited with R14 million in 2017, instead of R1 400 allowance which was due from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). Miss Mani went on to spend the R818 000 of this amount, in what is referred to as a spending spree.

Though behaviours of this kind must be corrected, for Miss Mani, whose youthful mistakes might cost her the future in one way or another, a restorative justice rather than a retributive justice was befitting.

Of concern for us, is how the law and justice system in this country treats people differently. It sentences Miss Mani to 5 years in prison for a crime that she did not premeditate nor plan, at least in the first act of crediting her account. The money was deposited into her account without her knowledge, and her deeply regrettable irresponsibility was to spend the money even though she knew she was not entitled to it.

There are more serious crimes in this country which involve the deliberate planning of looting and stealing of government resources, in which the law enforcement agencies and the judiciary have not arrested people for such crimes and in others, there is no promise that a mere trial might even take place.

Money that was spend unduly at the “improvement” of former President Jacob Zuma’s homestead in Nkandla, resulted only in “pay back the money”, without actual trial and sentencing of those who were in charge of the project and deliberately robbed the public finances by spending money on non-security measures.

The Steinhoff scandal costed shareholders huge amounts of investments, which led to the angered former directors of Tekkie Town demanding total liquidation of Steinhoff. Instead, the courts granted the owners of Steinhoff an option of settling their debt to the shareholders, at far less worth than they were at the time of the scandal. This is despite that many shareholders including pension holders of workers pensions were victims of those fraudulent activities and the scandal that cost them millions and billions.

Markus Jooste and his fellow culprits are still at large. Not because they are fleeing, but because the justice system is not pursuing them. If it ever does, harsher sentences must be imposed on them precisely because they premediated those fraudulent activities, contrary to Miss Mani who did not plan that her bank be credited mistakenly with R14 million.

In the case of Tongaat Hulett, former Tongaat directors and employees, including employees from their auditing firm committed fraudulent activities that have caused the company and its shareholders about R1.5 billion. We anticipate that they will be tried and slapped with harsher sentences.

The 28 international banking institutions including the local Rand Merchant Bank (RMB), Nedbank, Standard Bank, Investec, Absa, Investec Bank, and FirstRand were allegedly involved in the rigging of the Rand-US Dollar exchange markets and manipulated the South African Rand between 2007 and 2013.

The consequences of these actions have been immense especially because we are a net-importing country, but also this would have ideally impacted on debt servicing for government and private companies, investment and financial assets amongst others.

These banks, including the 38 traders who were directly involved in these manipulations and price-fixing, are yet to be tried, 9 years after the fact. This is despite the fact that some of their fellow culprits have being found guilty in the US as far as 2017. We even wonder if they will ever be convicted and sentenced to direct imprisonment.

In the case of Hitachi, which was found guilty of corruption involving billions of Rands at Eskom, partially caused us the energy crisis and put us into non-beneficial debt which wedemand must be declared odious, was found guilty and paid a fine in the United States of America (USA). They were not tried here, where their real crime had direct impact. Furthermore, neither of them or any of their linked culprits in the ANC’s Chancellor House have been tried or arrested to this day.

In government, countless projects have been abandoned midway, schools left without adequate infrastructure and equipment, hospitals without machines and daily useful equipment, police stations with unmaintained vehicles, communities without water, housing, sanitation and basic infrastructure because of the endemic corruption that has crippled public sector entirely.

It is seldom we hear of successful trial and harsher sentencing imposed on the thieves and crooks in government and private corporations, who are costing 70% of the population quality social services.

If indeed the liberal justice system is fair as it purports to be, it must not serve the rich differently from the poor. The poor without quality defence and money to bribe, seems to be victims of the justice system, on top of the fact that they are victims of the violence and dehumanisation of capitalism.

The case of Miss Mani compared to the crooks in government, in industrial corporations and financial institutions is illustrative that the justice system is favouring the big fishes, whereas it is most readily available to fry the small fish.

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