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
News
Courtney Love has admitted using heroin while pregnant with Frances Bean Cobain, her daughter with Kurt Cobain
people
Sport
Murray celebrates reaching the final
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Extras
indybest
News
Joel Grey, now 82, won several awards for his role in Cabaret
people
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Sport
Harry Kane celebrates scoring the opening goal for Spurs
footballLive: All the latest transfer news as deadline day looms
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: Secretary

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This major European Intellectual Propert...

Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher

£130 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher Jan 2015 - July...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - 9-12 Months

£14500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Accounts Assistant is immedi...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Communications Executive

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness