In a second sex-scandal within a year, the South African girls' school sponsored by TV talk-show hostess Oprah Winfrey, has suspended seven girls for alleged lesbian activities. Last year, a matron was also charged with alleged sexual abuse of six pupils.
The school at Henley-on-Klip near Vereeniging, South Africa was one of the two private schools for disadvantaged children which were founded with Winfrey's multi-million dollar donations. Ms Winfrey, who fought her way up from poverty to become the highest-paid TV personality and richest black woman in the world, vowed to provide poor South African girls with the very best education her money can buy. She also invests a great deal of her personal energy into these charity projects. see
She has often said that she feels very strongly about these pupils' wellbeing, and flies to these schools regularly in her private jet to supervise their activities at first hand.
The first alleged sex scandal to hit the school emerged early last year, when one of its boarding-school matrons, Virginia Tiny Makgobo, 27, was arrested and charged in a local law court for allegedly sexually abusing six pupils - a charge she denies. This trial has not yet been completed, but the matron has in the meantime, lost her job and is suing Oprah in a local labour court for reinstatement and financial damages.
Oprah Winfrey is surrounded by pupils at the opening of the Seven Fountains Primary School in Kokstad, South Africa, on March 16
In the latest scandal, seven girls had allegedly been 'involved in gay sexual activities' and were found guilty in an internal hearing at the school. This was claimed by parents and some of the girls in interviews with the reputable Afrikaans Sunday paper Rapport, which also obtained documentation to back up the claims.
The incident has moreover, also been confirmed by Oprah Winfrey's spokeswoman in a telephone interview with Rapport.
Two of the suspended girls' guardians claimed that they didn't even know about any internal hearings being held about their daughters' and granddaughter's alleged lesbian behaviour until the girls were sent home for the holidays, and received a letter telling them that they didn't need to come back.
All the girls enrolled in this private, very luxuriously appointed school come from economically-disadvantaged backgrounds. The straight-talking US talk show hostess wants to give these girls a kickstart in life by providing them with the best education possible and has poured millions of dollars into this effort.
Apparently the charges against the suspended girls involve them having tried to create sexual liaisons with other pupils and claims that they had also engaged in very specific groping offences.
In another bizarre complaint, one of the suspended girls, named as Lebohang Hinne, 15, of Soweto, also was accused of daring girls to engage in lesbian sexual liaisons with one another, Rapport writes.
This suspended pupil's mother, Mrs Masechaba Hinne or Orlando-West, suburb of Soweto, told Rapport how shocked and dismayed she was about the suspension of two of her family members: her own daughter Lebohang, 15, and her granddaughter Palesa, also 15, who are both at the same school.
Daughter Lebohang told Rapport that she did not do any of the things she's been found guilty of during an internal hearing at the school.
On Thursday, as the school broke up for the holidays, according to Rapport, four girls were told that they did not need to return to school afterwards.
There had apparently been internal hearings about the alleged lesbian activities of seven girls, and four of these girls already were 'found guilty' of the alleged offences by this internal 'court'. It's not known whether Ms Oprey was in personal attendance in this matter, but in view of her previous hands-on involvement with this school, it's not unlikely that she was kept fully up to date during every step of these procedures.
The story was confirmed by Oprah Winfrey's spokeswoman Lisa Halliday, speaking from Chicago. However she was not very forthcoming about the details, even though Rapport had all the documentation in hand.
"The suspended girls disregarded the school's code of behaviour. We view this incident as a confidential matter.We will not provide any personal information about the suspensions,' she said.
However, Rapport also cited directly from the school's letter sent to Lebohang Hinne, which tells the girl of her suspension.
I don't have time for sexual affairs...'
Lebohang says she's disappointed in Oprah: "She listens to a group of trouble-makers who are jealous of me. I did not do anything wrong.' Among other charges against Palesa was that she brings her friends to her room, which she shares with a fellow-student - and sends her roommate packing. "Tthat's just untrue. These are claims by jealous girls.When my friends heard of the suspension we all burst into tears. I don't have time for sexual affairs. My priority is my schooling.'
What her mother is angry about, the older woman said, is the fact that the school only contacted her three days after the girls were charged, and then only to tell her that both my daughter and granddaughter had been suspended.' "I was angry because the incident was humiliating to me personally. However I also realised that the complaints were ridiculous.
"I suppose we have to thank Oprah for teaching my children enough self-confidence to handle this suspension with an open mind', she concluded.
Another girl, Taryn-Leigh (TJ) Jefferies of Cape Town, was also told that an internal hearing was being held about her.
Her aunt, Colleen Jefferies, reacted with outrage: "We wrote a letter on 13 January to the school, telling them that TJ was behaving strangely, that we were trying to reach out to her, to help her... We have proof of this. Yet now they want to suspend her. We will fight this.'see