CityPress - - News - ZINHLE MAPUMULO zinhle.mapumulo@city­press.co.za

They waited in an­tic­i­pa­tion for a “spe­cial guest”, as per the an­nounce­ment by the host, US am­bas­sador to South Africa Pa­trick Gas­pard. They had no idea that Oprah Win­frey was about to walk into the con­fer­ence room.

When the queen of TV talk shows en­tered from the back­stage area, they erupted in joy­ous screams. Their Mam’ Oprah, as they af­fec­tion­ately call her, walked into the con­fer­ence room at the Premier Ho­tel at OR Tambo In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Ekurhu­leni.

One would think Win­frey is used to joy­ous screams from fans and au­di­ences, but she was over­whelmed by the love that the young at­ten­dants show­ered her with. Al­most with a South African ac­cent, she said, “Tjo!”, re­act­ing to the 250 girls and young women who are sup­ported by Dreams – De­ter­mined, Re­silient, Em­pow­ered, Aids-free, Men­tored and Safe – a US ini­tia­tive that aims to re­duce new HIV in­fec­tions in ado­les­cents and young women in 10 sub-Sa­ha­ran African coun­tries, in­clud­ing South Africa.

In South Africa, the Dreams ini­tia­tive fo­cuses on pri­or­ity ar­eas – Gaut­eng and KwaZulu-Natal – as th­ese prov­inces have the high­est HIV in­fec­tion rate. In South Africa, ado­les­cent girls (aged 15 to 19) are eight times more likely to be in­fected with HIV than their male coun­ter­parts. Young women (20 to 24) are three times more likely to be in­fected than young men of the same age group.

Win­frey’s life story – from grow­ing up in an im­pov­er­ished Mis­sis­sippi town where she was raped at a young age, fall­ing preg­nant and los­ing the baby, to be­ing the queen of talk shows with her own TV net­work – in­spires young women to look be­yond their past and dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances. Win­frey poured her heart out to the au­di­ence. She told them about her re­li­gious up­bring­ing, which she said was her pil­lar and strength, and how she climbed the lad­der of suc­cess. “I grew up in the church. My grand­mother led me to the sense of God and made me be­lieve there was a greater force than me. I grew up be­liev­ing that God was my fa­ther and Je­sus was my brother, which meant I could do any­thing in life.

“In life you can­not trust your­self only, there must be some higher force you trust in, be it God, the com­mu­nity or an or­gan­i­sa­tion, be­cause you can­not be suc­cess­ful on your own,” she told the girls, adding that their his­tory and past ex­pe­ri­ences – no mat­ter how un­for­tu­nate – should not de­fine their fu­ture. “What you do to­day and where you see your­self is what mat­ters.

“You need to know what kind of woman you want to be and where you want to be, not just in terms of pro­fes­sion, but in life. Life will lead you where you want to go ... Peo­ple pay at­ten­tion to peo­ple who ex­cel and excellence is a de­ter­rent for sex­ism,” Win­frey said.

The au­di­ence was given an op­por­tu­nity to ask ques­tions, many of which cen­tred on how to keep young girls mo­ti­vated and what they could learn from her suc­cess story.

Oprah Win­frey

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