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US TV Star Oprah Winfrey Distressed by Abuse Scandal at Her South Africa School


U.S. talk show host Oprah Winfrey says she was devastated upon learning that a staff member at her girls' school in South Africa had been accused of abusing several pupils. Winfrey made the remark hours after the staff member appeared in court on charges of indecent assault. Correspondent Scott Bobb reports from Johannesburg.

Talk show star Oprah Winfrey told reporters in Johannesburg via satellite about her distress upon learning that pupils at her school for disadvantaged girls had accused a female dorm parent of sexual abuse.

"This is one of the most devastating, if not the most devastating experience of my life," she said. "But like all such experiences, there is always much to be gained and I think there is a lot to be learned."

Winfrey said she hired private U.S. and South African investigators last month to probe the complaints. The results were reported to South African authorities. They led to the arrest Thursday of a 27-year-old dorm parent, Virginia Makopo, on 13 charges of indecent assault and criminal injury against six girls.

The accused woman has been released on bail after telling a court she was not guilty. She is to return to court in six weeks. Formal charges are expected after the official investigation is completed.

Winfrey said the school's headmistress was also being dismissed for ignoring the girls' complaints. She praised the 15 students who spoke out about the abuse.

"They represent, those 15 girls, the new generation in South Africa who fearlessly take back their voices to speak about their concern for their fellow classmates. This is what we are trying to teach," Winfrey said. "This is what leadership is all about."

Winfrey, who herself suffered abuse as a child, said the incident provided an opportunity to clean house. She pledged the school would create a safe and open environment for its students that would be a model for the world.

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