Oprah School Scandal: Her Story

An Action News Special Report
January 31, 2008 9:55:06 PM PST
She is the third headmistress to leave Oprah's school in South Africa since it opened last year. Selected by Oprah, she initially turned the job down, not wanting to leave her family and colleagues at Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia. But Oprah's persistence and an opportunity to return to her native South Africa, won her over.

"I had prepared for much of this all of my life so it was incredibly exciting," said Nomvuyo Mzamane. "And then of course I met the girls and that was simply love at first sight."

But that excitement turned to devastation, following her ouster from the school and Oprah's news conference, addressing allegations of sexual abuse of students at the Academy, under Nomvuyo's leadership.

"The inference was you knew about it but did nothing about it," Lisa asked.

"Utterly untrue, utterly untrue," Nomvuyo responded.

Nomvuyo said she had no knowledge that a dorm matron at the Academy was allegedly molesting some of the students.

The 27-yr-old woman was hired, said Nomvuyo, by Oprah's staff before she became headmistress. In fact, Nomvuyo told Action News of an earlier incident at the Academy where another employee invited a student to her hotel room. Nomvuyo said she investigated those allegations and didn't hesitate to take action.

"I requested that she not return to campus."

She said she immediately notified Oprah, as it was not uncommon for them to engage in a constant stream of communication, via e-mails and phone calls and she insists, whenever there was any problem at the school, she acted on it.

"So why if that had been what I had done in every single other incident in the 9 months that I was there would I not act with something like this."

Nomvuyo was in Chicago on October 4th, scheduled to meet with Oprah to help select students for the upcoming school year, when news of the sex scandal surfaced. She believes that's the only reason the girls did not come to her first.

But in a very different face-to-face with Oprah and her attorney, Nomvuyo was told about the growing scandal and put on a leave of absence. When she got back to her hotel room she said Oprah called her.

"It was a call of solidarity at least that's how I interpreted it. But you know, like I said, I had been put on a leave of absence so it was confusing. I was confused."

But Oprah's position became crystal clear when Nomvuyo's contract was not renewed, and later, during her news conference where she expressed to the world her disappointment with her headmistress.

Lisa asked, "That must have made you feel how?"

"Demoralized," said Nomvuyo. "Public lynchings are not for the faint of heart."

Nomvuyo said before her termination her relationship with Oprah was one of mutual affection and respect. So, what does she think of Oprah now?

"I still think she's an individual who cares for kids," she said. "Is adamant about making a positive impact across the globe particularly in education"

But Nomvuyo believes Oprah's best intentions, may have been guided with bad information.

"With all the compassion and the commitment perhaps she's ill-advised."

And the struggle for Nomvuyo is the overwhelming reality that her career has been seriously damaged and much more.

"It isn't just about the destruction of a reputation it's about the destruction of a life."

Statement from a spokesperson for The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation

"After a difficult time at the Academy last year, this month we welcomed all of our students back to the campus along with a new class of 7th graders. We have started our new school year with renewed energy, spirit and a steadfast commitment towards academic excellence."

Because she has not received an apology or "corrective statement" Nomvuyo has retained counsel to evaluate her legal options.