SAfrica probes abuse allegations at Oprah school

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JOHANNESBURG, Oct 31 (Reuters) South African police are investigating alleged abuses at billionaire US television magnate Oprah Winfrey's all-girl leadership academy, a police spokesman said today.

South Africa's Rapport newspaper has reported a matron at the school allegedly fondled one of the pupils, and grabbed a girl by the throat and threw her against a wall. The report saidother school employees were also implicated in misconduct.

Police spokesman Superintendent Lungelo Dlamini said the school carried out an investigation and handed the file to thepolice last week.

''We established that there were criminal elements in the report they gave us and we are investigating these. Once we do this, we will approach the Justice Department for possible charges and rosecution,'' Dlamini said, without giving details.

''All I can say is we are investigating a case of abuse andthe victims are young girls whom we are interviewing. At the moment I can not say anything further,'' he added.

Rapport said Winfrey flew to South Africa to meet parentsand school administrators at the campus near Johannesburg. Atearful Winfrey asked parents to forgive her for letting them down, the newspaper quoted a parent who attended one of themeetings as saying.

''I've disappointed you. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry,'' Winfrey is said to have told the parents, Rapport reported.

The 40 million dollars academy has been dogged by controversy since it opened in January with a star-studded launch attended by singers Mariah Carey, Tina Turner and Mary J. Blige, comedian Chris Rock, actor Sydney Poitier and filmmaker Spike Lee.

In March, some parents complained the school was too strict and its restrictions to visits, phone calls and email contact were comparable to prison rules.

Then, 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.

Winfrey hand-selected the first class of 152 poor, mostly black pupils to attend the posh school that boasts state-of-the-art facilities including laboratories, a yoga studio and beauty salon.

It is situated on 52 acres atHenley-on-Klip, south of Johannesburg.

Tuition and board is free at the residential school. The academy provides its 450 students with textbooks, uniforms and meals.


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