To hell and back

By Drum Digital
28 October 2010

BEADS of sweat break out on her forehead and she doesn’t stop wringing her hands as her eyes flick around the room. She’s showing all the signs of someone who is as tense as a loaded gun.

“You media guys gave me a hard time; especially you,” she finally blurts out, pointing directly at me. “I hold no grudges against you, nor against Oprah, the girls or anyone at the school... but you must know that this whole thing has ruined my life.”

It’s been two days since Tiny Virginia Makopo (30), the former dormitory matron at the prestigious Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, was acquitted of physically and sexually abusing nine students at the school. And she’s struggling to pick up the pieces of her life following a bruising legal process that began with her arrest in October 2007.

Overnight she was thrust into the centre of a case that saw Oprah’s school at Henleyon- Klip in Meyerton, south of Joburg, making front-page news around the world.

It cost R268 million to build and equip but barely nine months after it opened its doors with great fanfare, the school for talented but disadvantaged girls was embroiled in a sex scandal that went global. What was meant to be a shining beacon of hope for a new generation of young South African leaders became a national embarrassment.

“I was humiliated in front of the world,” Tiny says in a voice thick with emotion. “It might all be over, but what about my life?

“I’m still weighing up my legal options, but you need a good lawyer and lots of money to go head-to-head with Oprah. And suing her would just throw me back into the media spotlight. I’m tired of flashing cameras and being chased by photographers and reporters.”

It’s not surprising she’s so critical of us when we meet up in the lounge of the modest house in Sebokeng near Vereeniging, where she has been living since the trial began. The media certainly has hounded her.

There was a time during the in-camera trial when photographer John Liebenberg and I chased her through the court house corridors and into the courtyard before she disappeared into the mortuary. We dashed after her only to retreat quickly when we were greeted by a man pushing a body on a stretcher.

On another occasion we had a highspeed car chase with her from the Sebokeng Magistrate’s Court, where the trial was being held. We were trying to overtake her speeding Golf GTI to take her picture while she hid under a jersey on the back seat.

“That car chase came straight out of an action movie,” Tiny recalls. In the three years since she went on trial facing 14 charges, including indecent assault, assault, crimen injuria and indecent acts on girls aged 13 to 15, she’s become a recluse. Unable to work or leave the house for fear of ridicule, she spends all her time hiding here in this home belonging to her saviour, Elizabeth Mlambo (56).

Read the full article in DRUM of 28 October 2010

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