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Oprah millions flow at sight of Mandela

Henley-on-Klip (South Africa), Dec. 6 (Reuters): Knowing Nelson Mandela’s reputation for getting charitable donations out of the rich and famous, American talkshow queen Oprah Winfrey stumped up without being asked.

It cost her $10 million but it meant she kept on the right side of the man she calls her greatest living mentor. “He’s known for being able to extract the last dime from people. So I volunteered first,” Oprah said today.

With 84-year-old Mandela at her side, the African-American celebrity with a net worth edging towards the $1 billion mark broke the ground for what will be the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls.

“We are looking for strong, brave girls with heart. I believe girls are going to take over the world. Men have been in control long enough but, don’t worry, we’re prepared to share power,” the petite presenter said at the ceremony on the 22-acre wooded site, 40 km south of Johannesburg.

The academy’s doors will open in January 2005 and Oprah’s millions will be spent over a decade to build it and run it with the provincial education ministry, Caren Yanis, executive director of the Oprah Winfrey Foundation, told Reuters.

“I will be overseeing even the smallest details. There will be a fireplace in the library to make this school a home,” Oprah, 48, said on the latest stop of a planned four-week trip to South Africa, a country she says she has fallen in love with.

There will be 450 girls aged between 12 and 18 boarding at the academy. All will be “focused learners” with a strong bent for maths and science Backers say most will be picked from disadvantaged communities.

A victim of abuse when she was a child, Oprah said violence against women and girls was becoming tolerated in South Africa, the US and elsewhere in the world. “In our academy, it is not acceptable,” she said.

Oprah, who dragged herself up from the bottom rung in rural Mississippi, said the facilities would include “a telecommunications system that will allow me to teach them from Chicago”.

Mandela embraced her warmly and called her “the queen”. The school will be in one of the enclaves not controlled by South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress. Local member of parliament, Mannetjies Grobler of the mainly White Democratic Party, expressed enthusiasm at the ceremony.

”Anyone who brings politics into education is a fool,” he said.

”This is a wonderful idea. I just hope it will not be for the selected few, for ministers' children and suchlike.”

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