Oprah's £20m school proves she's not all talk

Oprah Winfrey, the talk show star and media mogul, likes to make friends through generosity, famously once giving every member of her studio audience a free car to take home. Yesterday, however, she celebrated giving of a slightly less frivolous kind.

Surrounded by American celebrities, Winfrey, listed as the richest black person on the planet, presided over the opening of a school for disadvantaged girls just outside Johannesburg, South Africa, built with $40m (£20m) of her own money and set to begin classes on Friday.

The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy will only be a small drop in the ocean of educational challenges in South Africa, where state schools are bursting and private schools are still largely white. For now it will accommodate just 152 girls, aged between 11 and 13, handpicked byWinfrey, on a 22-acre site at Henley-on-Klip, south of Johannesburg. Eventually it will have room for 450 girls.

The ebullient Winfrey was not in modest mood as she described the significance of the school, for her as much as for the students. Applauding her on the sidelines were the singers Tina Turner and Mariah Carey as well as the actor Sidney Poitier and director Spike Lee.

"When you educate a girl, you begin to change the face of a nation," she boldly declared. "I wanted to give this opportunity to girls who had a light so bright that not even poverty could dim that light." Only families with incomes under $700 a month could apply for places.

Responding to criticism that the school, complete with its own beauty salon, yoga studio and indoor and outdoor theatres, is too luxurious and elitist - she also picked the pleated-skirt uniforms and canteen china - she responded: "These girls deserve to be surrounded by beauty, and beauty does inspire."

The project arose from a pledge Winfrey first made six years ago to former president Nelson Mandela to help ease South Africa's education problems.

Mr Mandela, 88, who interrupted his holiday to be at the ceremony, looked frail as he was helped on to the stage by his wife Graca Machel and Winfrey. But he beamed with joy and pride. "It is my hope that this school will become the dream of every South African girl and they will study hard and qualify for the school one day," he said in a firm voice.

Winfrey, who was raised mostly by her grandmother in rural poverty, said : "For me education has been the road to success. To me education is freedom. And I believe the future of this country, of Africa, will depend upon the leadership of its women. And that's not just feminist rhetoric. It really is the truth as I see it." Winfrey, who has donated millions to educate disadvantaged children in the US through the Oprah Winfrey Scholars Program, is also to open another school for boys and girls in the province of KwaZulu-Natal.

Building the academy, Winfrey said, was also her way of helping South Africa deal with HIV and Aids. "Girls who are educated are less likely to get HIV/Aids and in this country which has such a pandemic, we have to begin to change the pandemic."

Lesego Tlhabanyane, 13, one of the girls at the ceremony preparing to start at the academy, said: "I would have had a completely different life if this hadn't happened to me. Now I get to be treated like a movie star."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot