Lerato Manaka is a 38 year old Female Crime and Prevention Activist and Motivational Speaker, born and bred in the Free State Province, South Africa. I am a mother of 3, a wife, sister, daughter and granddaughter.
I am the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Modiehi Mongale Foundation NPO, a registered non profit organization addressing socio-economic issues amongst ex female offenders. The Managing Director of a communications and marketing private company called Leraman Media.
After the death of my father from a short illness, I started introducing myself to the life of alcohol, partying every weekend and smoking not only because I didn’t take the news well but also due to having to stop receiving financial support from my mother and the lifestyle I had chosen demanded high financial maintenance.
Later on in the years I got married. The lifestyle didn’t change. Instead as a couple we were partying together. As life continued, were was blessed with kids, my husband lost his job, rent and school fees demands, debts increased and so did the love of alcohol increase with only one salary in the house.
I was employed in a very trusted position as Head Office Accountant having access to my employer’s bank accounts. One day I sat at work, my mind was preoccupied with all the stressful things we were going through - the bank wanting to repossess our family car. As and when I looked into my employer’s bank accounts, I thought to myself if I stole little no-one will notice.
I defrauded my employer money and transferred it into my husband bank account. The first criminal activity went straight into settling school fees, accommodation and saving the car, I felt it was going to be extremely hard without the car - taking kids to school and going to work.
Six months later into doing this criminal activity, my manager received a tip-off email to say that I was defrauding the company. Investigations were conducted and indeed it turned out that I was taking money out of my employer’s bank account and transferring it into my husband’s bank account.
Both my husband and I got arrested in 2012 and I was only 29 when it happened. We went out on bail pending trial. During that time there was no employer willing to hire me because I already had a criminal record that says ‘pending trial’, I had to kiss my career in Finance goodbye and this is when I decided to venture into business for sustainability reasons.
The court trial took 5 years and we received our sentence in 2017, at that time I was managing the legendary Papa Penny. I was sentenced 12 years imprisonment with a suspended 4 years therefore I had to serve 8 years. By God’s grace I served 2 years and 6 months at Johannesburg Correctional Centre. I was released in 2020 after receiving early parole due to Covid-19.
It might take you a nearby death experience to change your life, for me it took me to go into a Correctional Centre to change my life. I didn’t go to prison BUT I went to a Correctional Centre to correct my mistakes! Department of Correctional Services helped a lot in the process of correcting myself by offering rehabilitation programs.
One lesson that stood out for me was as much as we think Fraud is a petty crime, we are wrong! It’s actually a serious crime because a lot of people were affected by my criminal activity. Company suffered financial losses, a bread winner lost their job because the company had to retrench, South African economy was affected, and my family and friends were affected emotionally and financially because now they have to support me. So the action that I only thought of myself and situations turned out to affect a lot of innocent people and that was very selfish of me!
I also learned a couple of basic lessons about life such as tolerance, patience, time management, respect, self-realization, the list goes on. During detention we each had a choice to make, you can either chose to be rebellious or you can chose the willingness to correct yourself and allow yourself to go through the process of rehabilitation.