Spirit and hope in SA: Oprah

13 June 2005

US talk-show host Oprah Winfrey says South Africans have more spirit and hope than any other people she has met. She’s also crazy about the South African accent, loves food from Spur and Nando’s, and says she has Zulu DNA.

During her two-hour Live Your Best Life seminar at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg on Saturday, Winfrey said she was particularly impressed by South African children, reports the Sunday Times.

“I’ve never met a child here who doesn’t understand that education is their ticket to success,” she said. “I’m not lucky, but blessed. I’ve got where I have through education.”

It was the first Live Your Best Life seminar outside the US, presented to 3 200 people during Winfrey’s second visit to South Africa in six months.

Tickets to the event were snapped up within 48 hours of going on sale, with people travelling from Zimbabwe, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth to attend.

‘I am a Zulu’
While in the country, Winfrey donated R160 000 to the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, a non-governmental organisation working towards peaceful and fundamental transformation in South Africa, and about R6-million to the Ithuteng Trust, a school for reformed delinquents in Soweto.

She is also building a R175-million premier girls’ school, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, on about 9ha of land at Henley-on-Klip in Gauteng.

“I want to create the premier school for girls in the world – one I’d like to have gone to,” the Sunday Times reports her as saying. “We’ve got to the stage of choosing the fabrics [for the uniforms], and they’re what I’d happily have in my own home.”

She mentioned that she had her DNA tested recently, reports News24.

“I always wondered what it would be like if it turned out I am a South African. I feel so at home here.

“Do you know that I actually am one? “I went in search of my roots and had my DNA tested, and I am a Zulu,” she said to loud cheers.

“I’m crazy about the South African accent. I wish I had been born here.”

She also revealed that she liked Spur chips and tucked into Nando’s chicken almost every evening in her fancy Johannesburg hotel room, according to News24.

‘Speak out about Aids and poverty’
Winfrey said it was vital that people spoke openly about HIV/Aids. She said Nelson Mandela had told her he believed Princess Diana had done a lot of good by being seen hugging Aids babies, and celebrity attention in the US had changed the way people viewed the pandemic.

She urged South African celebrities to do the same and the media to make sure they covered the issue, reports the Sunday Times.

Oprah said she was glad she’d been poor and was looked after by her grandmother: that was one reason she empathised so much with SA children, who were often in the same boat.

“When I was 10, I saw Sidney Poitier win an Oscar,” she said. “It made me wonder what I could do. The same thing happened when I met a 16-year-old girl in Soweto this week who is the head of a household of six.”

According to the Sunday Times, Winfrey believes poverty can be eradicated in our lifetime. It exists only because the world is not outraged about it, she said.

During her tour of South Africa, Winfrey joined in traditional Zulu dancing on a visit to Soweto, reports the Star.

Winfrey couldn’t contain herself as hundreds of pupils from Ithuteng Trust – a school for reformed delinquents in Klipspruit – welcomed her last week.

She dedicated the day to the less fortunate children of Soweto, first visiting Aids orphans in Soweto and in Zuurbekom outside the township. She sat and talked with the children’s caregivers and helped distribute school uniforms.

At Ithuteng, 900 schoolchildren – some reformed gangsters and drug addicts, others victims of abuse – sang songs and toyi-toyied, to Winfrey’s delight.

A play performed by the children depicted domestic violence and rape. Winfrey couldn’t control her tears, the Star reports. Her bodyguard passed her tissues and sunglasses.

Winfrey later tried to perform the ukusina, a traditional Zulu dance.

The children showered her with traditional ornaments, including the Basotho grass woven hat, a gourd and a grass mat.

Winfrey shared her history of poverty and abuse, revealing that she was raped by three family members. The last rape, when she was 13, resulted in a child, who later died.

“I stand with you and understand where you come from,” she said.

“All things are possible; there is nothing you cannot do. What I want you to do here is work on yourself.”

Using SAinfo material Want to use this article in your publication or on your website?
See: Using SAinfo material