Mandela was deeply concerned about poverty in South Africa: Oprah

Oprah Winfrey addresses hundreds of women at the University of Johannesburg on Thursday, November 29 2018.
Oprah Winfrey addresses hundreds of women at the University of Johannesburg on Thursday, November 29 2018.
Image: Nonkululeko Njilo

American television icon Oprah Winfrey recalled her memories of former president Nelson Mandela at the Is’thunzi Sabafazi – Dignity For Women event at the University of Johannesburg on Thursday. 

“He was most concerned always about poverty and its devastation to people’s lives. He was most concerned about how poverty breeds violence, how poverty brought about a lack of healthcare and proper education,” she said. 

Hundreds of women attended the event, facilitated by author Redi Thlabi. Panelists included Mandela’s widow, Graca Machel, executive director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and Machel's daughter, Josina Machel. 

It was hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation as part of the remembrance period to mark five years since Mandela died and to observe 16 days of activism against gender-based violence.

During her keynote address, Winfrey declared her love for South Africa.

“This is my 36th visit to South Africa... I keep coming back, because I love this country and I love its people,” she said.  

Winfrey said she visited the country at least once a year to teach matriculants at her academy.

Speaking about how and why she started the institution, she recalled visiting Madiba's home in Qunu, in the Eastern Cape. 

“Madiba and I were just sitting in the living room. He passed me a paper and there was a story about a young boy who had lost his grandmother, lost his home and would not be educated unless somebody was going to support this boy... We started talking about the answer to eradicating poverty.

“I said the only answer I know is education... And I said one day I would actually like to build a school, and it would be a school for girls, because I believe women are going to save South Africa.

“I built a school to give girls who look like me, who came from backgrounds like me, who didn’t have the means, but have the brainpower and the will to succeed... a chance,” she told the audience. 

According to Winfrey, 191 girls were currently enrolled at the college and a significant number had since graduated from various tertiary institutions in South Africa. Two had graduated from the University of Oxford in the US. 

Machel commended Winfrey’s commitment to humanity, citing the need for women to be treated with dignity. 

“Oprah gives of herself. Society has to be really human. Loving, caring, and protective,” she said. 

Winfrey acknowledged that Mandela was a man of unmatched integrity whose spirit was still alive. “He was a man who could have sought revenge, but instead he sought reconciliation. He was a man who could have, and had every right to, hate his oppressors, but instead he hated their policies.” 

Following her address, many women said they were inspired and empowered to tell their stories. 

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