Oprah school scandal: 'Our little crisis'
Cape Town – Oprah Winfrey has revealed that she and her private school for girls, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls near Henley-on-Klip, referred to the sexual molestation charges that engulfed her school in 2007 as "our little crisis".
Furthermore, she said that she has and always will believe that the girls in the school spoke the truth.
The accused woman, Tiny Makopo, was acquitted on molestation charges in October 2010.
"When we went through 'our little crisis' as we call it at the school – in our first year where there was the dorm parent accused of molesting the girls who was later acquitted – when we went through that I brought in a leading trauma expert who said to me, 'You know, you're doing what has never been done'," Winfrey told Godfrey Mutizwa in an exclusive sit-down TV interview on CNBC Africa on Tuesday.
"I believe the girls and will still always believe the girls," Winfrey said.
Brought to tears
"There were times when I was brought to tears and to my knees with this whole process," Winfrey said about starting and running the project of creating her Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls.
"It was more challenging than I ever imagined," she said about building and running her school which cost more than $40m just to get it open.
"Even I, going into it, didn't recognise the responsibility of taking in girls whose parents can't afford to send them to such a school."
She said "the challenges were number one - not having the infrastructure. Number two - not recognising how difficult it is to create a structure and believing in the beginning that I will build this wonderful space, this building and the teachers will come – that I will be able to find great teachers.
"If I had to do it again, I would do it in completely a different way. For every step forward it was two steps back. But from day one I visited the very first village and saw the very first girl, I held a vision for myself and for these girls of what could be possible for them. And because of the girls, everything has been worth it,'' she said.
'These girls come with the most devastating things'
"When I think about where these girls have come from – I found some of them walking, carrying buckets of water on their heads walking three or four kilometres a day – now those girls are not just going to college, they're going to college with four and five and six distinctions. And they will become artists and engineers; they will become social workers, scientists.''
Winfrey said she thought "that you will just open the door and good teachers will just fall through. That is not so. Your school is only as good as your teachers. You can turn a school around with just one or two really great teachers. They can turn an entire school around. They can change the culture.
"So having solid leadership who understands what it means to create an environment that is 100% supportive of girls is important.
"Every girl here has already endured what would take out most people. Most people – particularly in high school – if you have one bad thing happen to you, it can take you out. These girls come to this school with the most devastating things.
"Every single week there is another tragedy at this school but these girls go on. They keep getting up. They're the most resilient people I have seen in my life and they come with such an open heart for hope. The fundamental key of success is what you believe about yourself. Not what you want, but what you believe."