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Last Updated: Friday, 2 November 2007, 16:28 GMT
Oprah SA school employee arrested
Cutting the ribbon to open the Oprah Winfrey academy in Jan 2007
The academy aims to offer an elite education to daughters of the poor
South African police say they have arrested an employee at US chat-show host Oprah Winfrey's Leadership Academy for Girls on abuse charges.

One girl at the school said she had been fondled; others reported being sworn at, grabbed by the neck, beaten or thrown against a wall.

An internal investigation resulted in a dossier being handed to Gauteng's child protection unit.

Ms Winfrey has twice visited the school at Henley-on-Klip to offer support.


Police spokesperson Superintendent Lungelo Dlamini said the 27-year-old woman, a dormitory employee, was arrested on Thursday by the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit.

"Several charges including alleged assault, indecent assault, crimen injuria and soliciting under-age girls to perform indecent acts are being investigated against her," South African Press Association quotes him as saying.

The girls said they had told the principal, Mbulelo Mzimane, about their complaints but she had failed to act.

The school promptly suspended both the principal and two matrons and offered counselling to its 150 boarders.

Ms Winfrey pledged to build the $40m academy after a meeting with former South African President Nelson Mandela six years ago and she personally interviewed many of the 3,500 South African girls from low income families who applied for the initial 150 places at the school.

The BBC African Service's Nick Ericsson says the school - which is free for pupils - has been no stranger to controversy since it opened its doors in a high-profile launch in January.

Some parents have complained that not only was the academy imposing too many restrictions on their children - with minimal contact being allowed between parents and children - but that junk food was strictly forbidden on the school grounds.

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