Her promise becomes a reality

Lebohang Nthongoa

The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls this week officially opened its doors to the first 152 girls who will start their secondary schooling with the hope of emerging as future women leaders.

It is the first school of its kind in South Africa, with the focus on structuring its curriculum towards shaping promising girls into powerhouses in the future.

The academy boasts a 28-building campus that has every modern amenity to ensure that educational needs of the girls are taken care of. It includes state-of-the-art classrooms, computer and science laboratories as well as a theatre, a boarding house and a hair salon, among many other facilities.

The boarding house is a home away from home for the girls. Winfrey personally oversaw all the details of the hostel accommodation to make it special for the girls. The environment is important as the girls will go home every quarter.

The academy will be under the leadership of Joan Countryman, interim head. Countryman has extensive experience, having served on several university boards in the US.

She will oversee staffing, developing policies, building programmes and procedures.

The official opening saw the girls rubbing shoulders with local and international dignitaries and celebrities who came to witness and share Winfrey's six-year dream come to fruition.

Former president Nelson Mandela was guest of honour, with Education Minister Naledi Pandor and Gauteng education MEC Angie Motshekga.

Motshekga said Gauteng was honoured to host the school .

American civil rights leader and former mayor of Atlanta, Georgia in the US, Andrew Young said when one looked at any part of the world where women are in leadership, things flourished .

Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, said: "I am sure the academy will transform the lives of the girls who walk through these gates. We are privileged to be here as part of history in the making and opening this new chapter in investing in the education of women and especially in leadership."

The school so far has 16 teachers, all South Africans. The number will grow as 75 more pupils are enrolled each year in Grade 7. There will eventually be 450 pupils from grades seven to 12.

The curriculum will include English, Zulu and south Sotho, as well as arts and culture, life orientation and leadership, mathematics, natural sciences and technology, social, economic and management sciences.

With classes set to start next week, the girls are going through orientation to help them fit into life at the school and to ready them for the academic demands ahead of them.

After high school, Winfrey promised to personally ensure the girls have the opportunity to attend any university in the world.

Winfrey's involvement in the everyday running of the school will continue and she is in the process of building her own house on the premises to ensure close contact with the girls and the school.

Most of the teachers will also be resident at the school, living in the senior dormitories. The girls will have two house mothers living with them in each dormitory.

The academy does not have a mission statement as yet - Winfrey wants the girls to participate in its development.

The academy is not the only school project Winfrey has in mind for South Africa.

Later in the month, a school for both boys and girls is set to open its doors in KwaZulu-Natal. As many as 1000 children will have the opportunity to enrol there.