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Wed Sep 28 05:29:53 SAST 2016

Oprah school matron 'considers legal action'

KHETHIWE CHELEMU | 12 October, 2010 23:120 Comments

Tiny Virginia Makopo, a former dormitory matron at the prestigious Oprah Winfrey Academy for Girls in Meyerton, Johannesburg, is considering legal action after she was found not guilty of sexually abusing girls at the school.

"I hold no grudges against the girls or anyone at the school, but I am still weighing my options," she said yesterday.

A visibly relieved Makopo, 30, said: "This case brought me a lot of pain and heartache. I have been emotionally drained for the past three years. I could not walk the streets without people pointing fingers at me."

Speaking to The Times in Sebokeng in the Vaal Triangle, Makopo - who has since lost some weight since her first court appearance - said allegations that she was a lesbian were completely unfounded and hurtful.

"I am not a lesbian. I did nothing wrong to those girls and they know it. It is a pity that they were used in order to get rid of me," she said.

"I love children and I would never hurt them sexually or otherwise, like it was previously alleged."

Makopo was surrounded by Elizabeth Mlambo, 56, the woman who took her in three years ago, and Mlambo's children, Manto and Lebo. Lebo, 31, is a former hairdresser at the academy. She claims she was suspended three years ago together with 19 others after the scandal broke.

Makopo said what kept her going was prayer and the fact that she knew in her heart that she had done nothing wrong.

Her ordeal began on September 25 2007, when she was suspended after having had a fist-fight with former colleague, Primrose Mweli, 23.

She then began hearing rumours that she was a lesbian and had sexually assaulted minor girls under her care.

She said she did not take the rumours seriously until her arrest on November 1 2007, when she was charged with 14 counts, including indecent assault, assault, crimen injuria and committing immoral and indecent acts on girls aged between 13 and 15.

Makopo spent five days in jail and was formally suspended on November 9 2007, following a disciplinary hearing.

On Monday, magistrate Thelma Simpson found her not guilty on all charges and acquitted her.

Makopo, however, wishes that the verdict could have come two years earlier - before the death of her grandfather, who had raised her.

"I hope that now that I am free people will stop passing silly remarks," she said "October 11 2010, the day I was vindicated, will always be etched at the back of my mind, the day I walked free."

Head of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, Anne van Zyl, expressed her disappointment at the verdict.

"We are deeply disappointed by the court's decision. However, as a school community we are totally supportive of our girls," said Van Zyl.

"We have already moved forward and will continue to do so. At the academy we are preparing young women to be future leaders of South Africa."

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