Dear Oprah, money can’t buy…Justice!

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According to ABC News, a woman accused of abusing teenagers at Oprah Winfrey‘s school for girls in South Africa was acquitted of the charges Monday, and Oprah said that she was “profoundly disappointed” by the trial’s outcome.

     Tiny Virginia Makopo, the former school matron, was accused by prosecutors in the case of trying to kiss and fondle girls at the school soon after it opened in 2007 outside Johannesburg.  Makopo also had been accused of assaulting one of the teens as well as a a fellow supervisor.

     From Mthunzi Mhaga, a spokesman for South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority, said Monday, “The Matron who was working at the Oprah Winfrey school was found not guilty on all the sexual assault charges.  The magistrate was of the view that the state had filed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that she (Makopo) was guilty.  We won’t be appealing the judgment.”

     Given Oprah’s own stated history of childhood sexual abuse, she called the allegations crushing, and promised an overhaul of the school.

     “I will forever be proud of the nine girls who testified with the courage and conviction to be heard,” Winfrey said in a statement Monday.  Even after the girls testified, the judge still found the matron, Makopo, was still found not guilty.

     Oprah opened the lavish $40 million Leadership Academy for Girls in January 2007.  Its aim is to give girls from deprived backgrounds a quality education in a country where schools are struggling to overcome the legacy of apartheid.  The school is spread across a 22-acre campus with neat laws and garden paths decorated with mosaics.  It has computer and science labs, a library and a wellness center.  The school is home to about 300 girls from across the country.

     It was disheartening to know that in March, Winfrey had settled a defamation lawsuit filed in Philadelphia by the school’s former headmistress, Nomvuyo Mzamane, who claimed Winfrey defamed her in remarks made in the wake of the 2007 sex-abuse scandal at the school.  Mzamane claimed that she was never told of any sexual abuse.  However, Winfrey’s lawyers said in a March pretrial memo that Mzamane failed to discipline Makopo despite her history of run-ins with students and fellow staff.  If Oprah was made aware of this allegation, couldn’t she have fired Makopo?

     Mzamane said she had trouble finding a job after Winfrey stated she had “lost confidence” in her.  Unfortunately, Winfrey and Mzamane met to resolve their differences out of court.  Unbelievable that Oprah had to settle a lawsuit with someone who did not work on her behalf. 

     At a time when many black leaders are being charged with ethics violations, even the great Oprah Winfrey is not exempt from being targeted in some way.  I only wish that with all the resources available to someone of Ms. Winfrey’s stature, that more could have been done to prevent such a slap-in-the-face reminder of her past to happen to again, children.  Even after the testimonies of all the young girls who were allegedly abused, the judge still found Makopo not guilty.  Who is safe in this world?  How is it that anyone would even consider hiring the two women accused of the allegations at Oprah Winfrey’s girls school?  But someone will hire them – and someone, most likely, will put them in charge of children unlike Oprah’s.  They would do it that was because – what happened to Oprah’s girls would have been a one-time calculated thing.  Then again, maybe with whatever settlements they have received or will receive will allow them to not have to work again.  I know I don’t want to hear or see either of them on Good Morning America or even TODAY.  Oprah, with all you’ve done for the world, you should have won a Nobel Prize by now.

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