Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls

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Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls
Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls South Africa.JPG
Sign at the academy entrance – April 2015
Henley on Klip
South Africa
Type Private School
Established 1 Jan 2007
Principal Melvin King
Grades 8 to 12
Enrollment 380

The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls – South Africa is a girls-only boarding school that officially opened in January 2007 in Henley on Klip near Meyerton, south of Johannesburg, South AfricaCoordinates: 26°32′49″S 28°03′19″E / 26.54694°S 28.05528°E / -26.54694; 28.05528. Inspired by her own "humble beginnings" and disadvantaged background, Oprah Winfrey stated that she founded the Leadership Academy to provide educational and leadership opportunities for academically gifted girls from impoverished backgrounds in South Africa who exhibited leadership qualities for making a difference in the world.[1] The current headmistress is Ms. Anne Van Zyl who has been at the academy since 2010.[2]

Criticisms and controversies[edit]

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Leadership Academy, Winfrey received much criticism surrounding the "extravagance" of the school, with mention, among other things, about the need for high thread-count sheets for the dormitory beds, a beauty salon, two theaters (one indoor, one outdoor) and a yoga classroom to educate girls in an impoverished region of South Africa. In an article about the school's unveiling, Allison Samuels of Newsweek questioned whether the $40 million spent might have benefited a far greater number of students had the money been spent with less emphasis on luxurious surroundings and more emphasis on practicality.[3]

Winfrey defended her decision to establish the Leadership Academy in South Africa by offering the following observation:

I think the reason not just Africa but the world is in the state that it is because of a lack of leadership on all levels of government ... and particularly in regard to schools and schooling for poor children. ... The best way to effect change long term is to ... give children exposure and opportunity and nurture them to understand their own power and possibility.[4]

Rebecca Traister of Salon.com[5] and Karen Russell of The Huffington Post[6] wrote in defense of the school. Russell then cited the success of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female President who restored Liberia’s electricity, as an example of what can happen when the best and brightest girls in Africa are given a world class education. She praised Winfrey for sending the message that blacks and women have value.[6]

Other criticisms that Winfrey received about the Leadership Academy included the racial makeup of students, with the majority of students selected and accepted as candidates for the school being black. Winfrey deflected this criticism by saying that the "school is open to all girls who are disadvantaged. All girls, all races, who are disadvantaged ... [including] White, Indian and Native American students of varying faiths," as long as eligibility requirements were met.[7] Many of girls chosen for the Leadership Academy come from families affected by HIV/AIDS.[8]

In spite of the criticism, Winfrey's offered that her vision for the Leadership Academy was to provide a vehicle for mentoring academically talented and disadvantaged girls with "that 'It' quality" to provide them with opportunities to "change the face of a nation," make a difference in the world and to become future leaders of South Africa. As for rationale of the lavishness of the school, Winfrey continued by saying that "[i]f you are surrounded by beautiful things and wonderful teachers who inspire you, that beauty brings out the beauty in you."[9] To change how women are viewed, Winfrey added during an interview, one must look for an opportunity "'to change the paradigm, to change the way not only these girls think ... but to also change the way a culture feels about what women can do.'[10] '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.'"[11]

Visiting rules controversy[edit]

In March 2007, some parents complained because they were only allowed to visit their children once a month and the girls were only allowed to use their cell phones on weekends.[12] John Samuels, the executive head of the school responded to the complaints by appealing to security and school spirit.

Alleged physical and sexual abuse[edit]

In October 2007, a female school staffer was accused of physically and sexually abusing students. Winfrey flew to South Africa to meet with school officials and parents on 12 October.

According to the Afrikaans-language newspaper Rapport, the "dorm matron" allegedly grabbed a student by the throat and threw her against a wall. The unidentified woman is also alleged to have screamed at and assaulted her wards, as well as fondled at least one girl. The staffer was put on probation pending an investigation.[13]

On 1 November 2007, Police Superintendent Lunge Dlamini announced that the 27-year-old dorm matron had been arrested after seven students submitted statements alleging assault and various abuse at the hands of the employee.[14]

Winfrey provided each girl with a cell phone programmed with her personal phone number.[citation needed]

The Times, a Johannesburg newspaper, said the incident was unsurprising given that South Africa has some of the highest rates of child rape in the world, and praised Winfrey for dealing aggressively with the problem.[15]

Rachel Jewkes, a specialist on sexual violence with South Africa's Medical Research Council, praised Winfrey’s response as "phenomenal", because it sent such a powerful message in a country afflicted with record high levels of sexual abuse.[16]

On 23 March 2010, the Associated Press reported that Winfrey settled the defamation lawsuit filed by one of the headmistresses at the Academy before the trial began.[17]


There have also been reports of praise for the school. According to Masechaba Hine, whose daughter and granddaughter both attend the school, her children "have no problems about the school, they are happy about everything." Hine has been so pleased with the experience that she even praised Winfrey personally, saying, "Oprah is an angel, she is God-sent…She came to my rescue when my husband was not working."[18]

Praise from Nelson Mandela[edit]

One of the academy's most vocal fans has been Nelson Mandela, who called Winfrey his hero because she understood that South Africa's gains in democracy would be nullified unless future generations were educated. He was quoted in Time magazine as saying:

The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls—located near Johannesburg and educating girls in Grades 7 through 12—is therefore a wonderfully appropriate gift to the people of South Africa, one that will endure over many lifetimes. When I went to the opening of her school, I looked at the shining faces of these young women and thought every one of them has the potential to be an Oprah Winfrey. The school is important because it will change the trajectory of these girls' lives and it will brighten the future of all women in South Africa. Oprah understands that in Africa, women and girls have often been doubly disadvantaged. They have had the curse of low expectations and unequal opportunities.[19]

Praise from Bill Clinton[edit]

The academy was honored by Bill Clinton when he featured it in his book Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World as an example of how to give back to the world. Clinton predicted that the school would change the lives of many young women and interviewed Winfrey to find out why she decided to build the school. Winfrey explained that caring teachers "made education an open door" for her and that she wanted to help girls who grew up like her, "economically disadvantaged, but not poor in mind or spirit".[20]


As of March 2016 there is no prominent link on the school's website for donations; however, it is possible to donate to the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation which supports the school via a page on eBay.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Reaching out: South African school for girls born out of Oprah's need to "feel" a connection. (2007, 2 January). The Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 10 January 2007.
  2. ^ "Oprah academy's new head". EducationWeb. 2009-09-23. Retrieved 2016-06-04. 
  3. ^ Samuels, A. (2007, January 8). Oprah goes to School. Newsweek. Retrieved Aug 15. 2016.
  4. ^ Winfrey Says She Wants to Nurture Kids. (2007, January 3). The Washington Post. Retrieved January 14, 2007.
  5. ^ Traister, R. (2007, January 13). What Oprah can't forget. Salon.com. Retrieved January 14, 2007.
  6. ^ a b Russell, K. (2007, January 4). War on Oprah. The Huffington Post. Retrieved January 14, 2007.
  7. ^ CNN transcript (Jeff Koinanage, CNN Africa correspondent reporting). (2007, 2 January). CNN. Retrieved 14 January 2007.
  8. ^ Jacobson, C. (2007, 3 January)
  9. ^ Oprah's school for girls opens in S. Africa: Plus, TV mogul answers critics who would rather see her help poor students in U.S. (2007, 3 January). EURweb. Retrieved 10 January 2007.
  10. ^ Oprah wants to change view of women in Africa: Talk show host opens school for girls in effort to change the culture. MSNBC. Retrieved January 10, 2007.
  11. ^ Usborne, D. (2007, 3 January). Oprah wants to change view of women in Africa: Oprah's £20 m school proves she's not all talk. The Independent (UK). Retrieved 10 January 2007.
  12. ^ Oprah's school 'too strict': South Africa: News: News24
  13. ^ Retrieved 23 October 2007.
  14. ^ News | Africa – Reuters.com
  15. ^ Oprah Scandal Rocks South Africa – TIME
  16. ^ Oprah case highlights abuse in South Africa | csmonitor.com
  17. ^ Oprah Winfrey Settles Headmistress' Pa. Lawsuit
  18. ^ Despite allegations, Oprah's school supported – CNN.com
  19. ^ Oprah Winfrey – The TIME 100 – TIME
  20. ^ Bill Clinton. Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World Page 18
  21. ^ "The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation – eBay for Charity". eBay. Retrieved 2016-03-01. 

External links[edit]