Gavin Prins, News24.com (South Africa), March 11, 2007
The rules at Oprah Winfrey’s ultra-posh school at Henley-on-Klip near Johannesburg are apparently so strict they make a reformatory look like a holiday resort.
That’s the word from upset parents, who say the school rules make it difficult for them to keep contact with their children.
They would have aired their concerns during a satellite link-up with the chat show queen a week ago, but that was cancelled at short notice by the school’s management body.
Meanwhile the school seems to have made the rules even stricter. Until now, the girls could receive visitors every fortnight, but parents can now only visit them once a month.
Frances Mans, foster mother of Gweneth Mulder, said last week she would take her daughter out of the school if the rules were not changed.
‘Surely this isn’t a prison?’
Cellphones and e-mail correspondence are out of bounds during the week, and girls are only allowed to phone their parents at weekends.
The maximum number of visitors per pupil is four, and visits have to be approved by the school at least two weeks in advance.
Mans said she had to wait at the security gate for half an hour to be signed in when she went to visit her daughter last Sunday.
“It was a nightmare. We had only two hours to see my child. Surely this isn’t a prison or an institution?”
The names of visitors must also match those on the security guard’s list before guests are allowed in.
Parents are not allowed to smuggle junk food in to the girls past the matrons.
“Then the girls lose points,” says Mans.
The girls get points for “good behaviour”, which they can exchange at a school shop for clothes and caps.
No treats allowed
“The poor children are not even allowed to have any treats. Their diet is fruit, yoghurt and sandwiches. When they go on holiday for a month in April they’ll be stuffing themselves with sweets and chocolates in any case.”
Angela Conradie, whose daughter Michelle is at the school, says she’s just as upset about the strict visiting times.
“Michelle phones me in tears sometimes, and then I don’t know what to say to her,” says Conradie.
John Samuels, the executive head of the school, confirmed that only one visit a month would be allowed in future.
This means that if a girl has five siblings, she will only be able to see all of them over a period of three months.
Samuels says he sees nothing wrong with the system.
“We have the security and well-being of the girls at heart, in every respect. They are our priority. If there’s too much movement on the premises at the weekend, it disturbs the school spirit.”