Oprah Opens Africa Girls Academy

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American talk show and global start Oprah Winfrey took networking between African-Americans and Africans to new heights when she opened a $40 million school for 150 disadvantaged girls in Henley-on-Klip, a few miles south of Johannesburg.

By doing so, Winfrey fulfilled a promise she made to Nelson Mandela six years ago. "I wanted to give this opportunity to girls who had a light so bright that not even poverty could dim that light," Winfrey said.

Tina Turner, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, Chris Tucker, Spike Lee and acting legend Sidney Poitier were at hand to celebrate. Mandela, now 88, who appeared frail, was supported by his wife, Graca Machel. He expressed his joy and thanked Winfrey for her devotion and for giving hope to many disadvantaged girls from poor backgrounds.

"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. I thank you for personal time and devotion to this school,� Mandela said. “This is not a distant donation but a project that clearly lies close to your heart.�

Winfrey told reporters that she decided to build her own school because she wanted to feel closer to the people she was trying to help. "Girls who are educated are less likely to get HIV/Aids and this country which has such a pandemic, we have to begin to change the pandemic," Winfrey said.

"I was a poor girl who grew up with my grandmother, like so many of these girls, with no water and electricity," Winfrey, dressed in a pink ball gown and jacket told her guests. This academy was born out of the meeting Winfrey had with Mandela in 2000 and Winfrey says she built the academy in South Africa and not in the US “out of love and respect for Mandela�  and because of her own African roots.

Another school for boys and girls is on cards in the KwaZulu-Natal province, Winfrey hinted. Black schools in most of South Africa's townships are under funded, overcrowded and lack basic learning materials. Gang violence, drug abuse and schoolgirl pregnancies are also high in the schools.

As in during the apartheid era, Whites still enjoy better school facilities, which the majority of Blacks cannot afford. Winfrey's project will make a difference to the lives of poor South African girls and give them a better and brighter future.

Tsiko is The Black Star News's Southern Africa correspondent, based in Harare. 

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