July 29, 2008 / 10:48 AM / 9 years ago

FACTBOX-Troubles at Oprah's South Africa school

(Reuters) - Virginia Mokgobo, a former dormitory matron charged with abuse at U.S. talk show host Oprah Winfrey’s girls academy in South Africa, pleaded not guilty at a court appearance on Tuesday south of Johannesburg.

Here are some details about the residential academy which is situated on 52 acres (21 hectares) at Henley-on-Klip, south of Johannesburg.

A GRAND OPENING:

-- The $40 million Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls opened on January 2, 2007, with a launch attended by former South African President Nelson Mandela, U.S. singers Mariah Carey, Tina Turner and Mary J. Blige, comedian Chris Rock, actor Sydney Poitier and filmmaker Spike Lee.

-- The goal was to create a safe place for girls and young women to learn about themselves and their heritage, and become future leaders.

-- Winfrey selected the first class of 152 poor, mostly black pupils, based on academic and leadership potential.

-- The school boasts state-of-the-art facilities including laboratories, a yoga studio and beauty salon. Tuition and board is free. The academy provides its 450 students with textbooks, uniforms and meals.

SOME INITIAL PROBLEMS:

-- In March 2007, parents said they wanted greater access to their children, and compared the school’s restrictions on visits, phone calls and e-mail contact to prison rules. Some mothers complained the two-hour visit permitted one Sunday a month was not long enough to reconnect with their daughters.

-- In May, some parents complained their children were not allowed junk food and, when they visited the school, they had to go through a security gate.

-- Last November, South African police arrested former Mokgobo, on charges including assault, indecent assault and soliciting under-age girls to perform indecent acts.

-- At least seven alleged victims have submitted statements about the woman.

Writing by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit;

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