Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Oprah: Creating Hope in South Africa


I have a confession to make. I am a recovering Oprah Winfrey Show fan. And, like any junkie, if you allowed me close quarters to my drug I would fall gratefully into the abyss, spending days on the sofa in front of the TV in tracky pants and a chocolate-stained T-shirt. Luckily for my family I went cold turkey when we moved to Germany.

Whatever you feel about Oprah Winfrey, she has a way of packaging hope and making it accessible to all. There is something so seductive about her glossy brand of self-reliance, spirituality and good make-up. When she’s peddling her vision up there onscreen looking gorgeous, you can’t help believing that a smidgen of what she’s got would be what you need to turn your life around.

While I drank it in, I also found much of it corny: when someone’s telling their life story, there’s always got to be a blurry shot of them reading by candle-light (spirituality), walking in the forest/along a beach (alone, but bravely so), cooking a meal (family values). Somehow, though, it’s still addictive. Millions of daily viewers would testify the same.

Along with being a talk show phenomenon, she’s a publisher, an Oscar-nominated actress, an author and a philanthropist. Time Magazine and CNN both say she’s arguably the world’s most successful woman. One of her favourite places to dispense her energy and money is South Africa, where she reserves special attention for poverty-stricken and AIDS-afflicted children.

Her latest project caught my interest. Oprah’s funding a school for girls in Meyerton south of Johannesburg. The school, which will cost $10 million, will eventually cater for the educational needs of 450 students, chosen for their talent and leadership skills. They will come from families that cannot afford to fund their schooling, and – get this – sophisticated communications technology means Oprah will be able to chime in on their lessons, all the way from Chicago! (For more details, here’s the BBC report.)

When I first read this, I couldn’t help thinking it was a pity that some of South Africa’s millions of AIDS orphans weren’t seeing some of that money. But South Africa also needs great female leaders, and there’s probably no-one better in the world to teach girls that a modest background needn’t hold them back. Imagine, on top of a superb education, they’re going to get the Oprah brand of self-belief, lessons in entrepreneurship and leadership, and the chance of some good grooming tips.

While girls in South Africa already have excellent role models, with women in the cabinet, in parliament and in business, I don’t think there’s anyone in the country with the financial clout to make a gesture as grand as this. I hope it translates into reality for girls with potential. They are the first generation born free, and they can do anything. Do they need Oprah to tell them that? No. Does the country need Oprah to kickstart the identifying of female leadership from disadvantaged communities? Maybe.

I think the message for young women and their parents to take from this school is that South African girls, no matter where they come from and no matter whether they get into Oprah’s model school or not, can also hope for the very best of what life has to offer them.

*** Achtung! Some Oprah trivia! The glamorous one is to voice the part of Gussy the Goose in the new movie of Charlotte’s Web … watch this space. ***


Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

8 thoughts on “Oprah: Creating Hope in South Africa

  1. I saw an Oprah episode where she had arranged for Hurricane Katrina survivors to build new houses for themselves on a street, and then she had decorated each house to each family’s particular taste. I loved that! It’s like she helps people with imagination. Often she gets on my nerves because she goes: “Yeah, yeah,” when people are talking as if she’s not really listening to what they’re saying. But there is just something about her. She made me aware of what a baddy hydrogenated vegetable fat is, I know that is not a huge issue but I am a vegetarian and didn’t realise how much apparently “healthy” vegetarian food had this stuff in it.

    I love the sound of the school she is making. I believe girls can get ahead without her but this school will make a difference. Maybe one of the graduates from that school will go on to find a cure for AIDS or find a way to help the AIDS babies. I hope so.

  2. That sounds like a great project – good education should make all the difference for the future here. I hope there is someone out there willing to do a similar thing for boys too. I guess having a single sex school for girls helps them focus on finding their self-confidence without succumbing to old-fashioned expectations of taking second place, but I think boys need just as much help and support to find their way out of poverty and its pitfalls.

    Anyway it’s a positive thing that she is taking so much interest in South Africa.

  3. Saw her interviewed on SA tv about it all… very moving… I cried and cried. I’m very happy for those 600 girls!

  4. I realize it’s blasphemy to criticize Saint Oprah, but for once I’d like to see her do something that isn’t all about Oprah. Everything she does is calculated to bring her the maximum publicity value. I also saw the Katrina houses episode of her show and was disgusted by the spectacle she put on down there, bringing those people together without telling them why they were there and then springing out from behind the curtain and making her announcement in that retarded voice she puts on for such things – with camera crew in tow, of course. You’re not supposed to question good deeds, but as far as I’m concerned, she used those people. And then to announce over the air exactly how much she personally donated. No class! Learn some humility, lady!
    As for her South African school… what about the boys? What kind of message is she sending? That only girls matter? Imagine being the brother of one of those girls, living in destitute poverty and not having any access to a decent education while your sister goes to a top of the line school simply because she was born female. That angers me. I realize she can’t help everyone, but these are kids. It shouldn’t matter if they’re male or female. They had no choice about being born male or female. They’ve been the victims of racial discrimination and now they’re being deprived based on their gender. What is Oprah thinking?!

  5. I must admit I share your addiction, except it’s not Oprah who gives me hope each day but Dr Phil! I do confess to watching the Dr Phil show fairly regularly, despite the fact that he is really Captain Obvious, he does “stating the obvious” incredibly well. And it’s always hard for us to see the obvious failings in our own lives. I’m not sure how many successes he has, but it’s good viewing. It’s on here at 12pm, sometimes I’m still in my pajamas chasing babies and trying to prevent head injuries!

  6. was up oprah winfrey fans?

  7. I am Nigerian and i visit the Oprah website everyday. I make it a point of duty. I watched the Katrina Homes show on tv and i have read a lot of publications on the internet as regards the Girls’ school in South Africa and other benevolent programs Oprah is into. Personally, i think Oprah is one of the greatest givers of our time and she is an inspiration to all. I would like to ask wealthy Africans, especially Nigerians, to learn from examples she has set and start giving to help their society. Lets give today for a better tomorrow. Stop stashing away billions for your immediate family, think about others. God bless Oprah.

  8. What about the boys?

    An African American, a descendant of an oppressed people, goes to the mother land and opens a school for black girls only.

    I suppose no matter where in the world you are, being a black man has its disadvantages

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