S. African court postpones Oprah school trial

April 21, 2008 6:40:09 PM PDT
A court on Monday postponed the trial of a former dormitory matron accused of abusing pupils at a school set up by Oprah Winfrey for disadvantaged girls.

Magistrate Thelma Simpson agreed to a request made by Tiny Virginia Makopo's lawyer, who said he needed more time to consult with his client.

The judge said a new trial date, likely in July, would be set during a provisional hearing on Friday.

Prosecutor Etienne Venter voiced frustration with the delay, saying the state was ready for the trial.

"We can't keep on dragging and dragging the case," he said.

Makopo has pleaded not guilty to charges of indecent assault, assault and criminal injury. Police say the alleged abuse against six teenage students and a fellow dormitory matron took place over four months.

On Monday, Makopo hid her face in a maroon towel as she entered the court building. A policewoman removed the towel, but Makopo pulled her jacket hood low over her eyes.

"I can't talk to a faceless person," Simpson said as she ordered her to remove the hood.

Winfrey's $40 million school opened in January 2007 with much fanfare, with guests including Nelson Mandela, Spike Lee and Tina Turner. It is designed to groom girls from disadvantaged backgrounds for leadership roles.

Winfrey, who was a victim of child abuse herself, promised an overhaul of the school and said she had apologized to parents.