July 29, 2008 / 10:31 AM / 9 years ago

Ex-Oprah school matron pleads not guilty in South Africa

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A former dormitory matron charged with abuse at U.S. talk show host Oprah Winfrey’s girls academy in South Africa on Tuesday pleaded not guilty.

Virginia Mokgobo, 27, arrested in November and out on bail, is facing charges relating to common assault, harassment and soliciting a minor to perform indecent acts and verbal abuse. She appeared in Sebokeng magistrate court, south of Johannesburg on Tuesday.

“She pleaded not guilty to all the charges, they are reserving her defense, I don’t know till when,” said state prosecutor Etienne Venter.

Testimony from six minors will be heard in-camera and media will be allowed in court on Friday.

Former dormitory matron Virginia Mokgobo, 27, stands in the dock at Sebokeng magistrate court, south of Johannesburg July 29, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer

“The reason is that the children are scared to be seen,” Venter said.

Winfrey, a billionaire philanthropist who has herself told of suffering sexual abuse as a child, has described the charges against the matron as one of the most devastating experiences of her life.

The $40 million Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls opened in January 2007. In March last year, some parents complained the school was too strict and its restrictions on visits, phone calls and email contact were comparable to rules in prisons.

Then in May, they complained their children were not allowed junk food and, when they visited the school, they had to go through a security gate.

Reporting by Phakamisa Ndzamela; editing by Sami Aboudi

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