January 5, 2007
Oprah opens school for girls in South Africa


Johannesburg, South Africa – Pupils from the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls will be sent for HIV/Aids testing with their parents’ consent, said Oprah Winfrey at the opening of the school at Henley-on-Klip, Meyerton, on Tuesday.

The US$40 million (R80 million) school for girls from disadvantaged backgrounds was officially opened by Winfrey at a star-studded event.{{more}}

The school will run independently of the Gauteng education department but all the pupils, from grades seven to 12, would follow the South African curriculum, interim head of the school, Joan Countryman, said at a press conference.

She added that because South Africa has 11 official languages, the school would initially use English, Zulu and Sesotho but try to incorporate all the languages as possible parts of the curriculum.

Winfrey also announced that she would open another school in KwaZulu-Natal at the end of the month for boys and girls.

Clad in green, gold and white, 13 girls from disadvantaged backgrounds joined Winfrey in hoisting the South African flag and the flag bearing the school crest.

The girls will develop the mission of the school in the spirit of Ubuntu – “I am because we are.”

It was the fulfillment of a promise she made to former President Nelson Mandela six years ago and giving more than 150 poor South African girls a chance for a better future.

Oprah said she decided to build her own school because she was tired of charity from a distance.

“When I first started making a lot of money, I really became frustrated with the fact that all I did was write cheque after cheque to this or that charity without really feeling like it was a part of me,” she said in an interview with Newsweek magazine which went on sale on Monday.

“At a certain point, you want to feel that connection.”

The academy aims to give 152 girls from deprived backgrounds a quality education in a country where schools are struggling to overcome the legacy of apartheid.

Heightening concerns about declining standards in South Africa’s schooling system, the education department said last week that the school leaving matriculation exam pass rate had dropped for the third straight year.

(South Africa Press Association)