Oprah disappointed by acquittal

by Derrick Johnson on October 12, 2010

In a written statement released Monday Oprah Winfrey said she was “profoundly disappointed” after a matron accused of abusing students at Oprah’s Leadership Academy for girls in South Africa was acquitted of all charges.

Tiny Virginia Makopo was accused of 14 separate charges including the assault of a student, and a fellow supervisor, and improperly touching several other students, according to CNN.com. She was found not guilty on all accounts.

The allegations arose nine months after the academy’s opening in July 2008. Oprah reported being “shaken to the core” by the claims when she received the news.

Oprah recently spoke publicly about the abuse she had suffered as a child and became personally involved in the investigation. She hired an American team of private investigators to work with the South African police on the case.

According to magistrate Thelma Simpson, there were numerous contradictions in the witnesses’ testimonies. Students were reportedly unable to provide accurate dates of evidence and some exaggerated their evidence, she told The Times of South Africa . Simpson said that the state would not appeal the judgement.

In her statement, Oprah wrote, “I will forever be proud of the nine girls who testified with the courage and conviction to be heard.” She expressed her appreciation for the respectful and caring manner with which the prosecutor and police treated the alleged victims.

Makapo told the Times, “I am so happy, I just do not know what to say. I can’t believe that this case is finally over and that I am finally free .. for me the past three years were nothing but hell.” Makopo claimed the case left her humiliated, broke and unemployed.

The Money Times reported that Principal Anne van Zyl of the Academy said she too felt disappointed in the outcome.

Oprah has pursued numerous initiatives to provide opportunities to young women from poor communities and personally approved each of the students to her school. Last week the talk show host flew some of the Leadership Academy students to the U.S. in order to introduce them to President Barack Obama.

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