Oprah academy's new head

Published Sep 22, 2009


By Mogomotsi Magome

She has been involved with teaching and guiding girls for most of her career, and has now been entrusted by one of the most influential women in the world with specially selected girls in the country.

Anne van Zyl, former principal of Pretoria Girls' High, was last month appointed as the head of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls.

The school was started by Winfrey in 2007 to provide specially chosen girls from disadvantaged backgrounds with leadership qualities and rare opportunities.

Van Zyl is highly regarded within the education fraternity, with some of the highlights of her career being her leadership role in Pretoria Girls' High, the first white state school in the then Northern Transvaal (now Gauteng) to open its doors to all races.

Speaking from Cape Town, where she is currently the head of Bridge House School in Franschhoek, Van Zyl said she was excited about joining the academy and contributing to the development of young girls in the country.

But what made her decide to return to her profession when she had already decided to go into retirement when her contract with Bridge House comes to an end this year?

"I have always been passionate about girls' education and this is very special because you have girls who come from a disadvantaged background and they have been given a great opportunity.

"I had to be convinced by people around me who really believed that I still had a lot to offer this country, and they succeeded because I eventually changed my mind," said Van Zyl.

The school has been embroiled in controversy since it enrolled its first 150 pupils in January 2007.

A court case involving one of the matrons at the school, Tiny Virginia Makopo, is currently under way after she allegedly physically and sexually assaulted some of the girls.

"These incidents have certainly affected the image of the school, but I believe they have not changed the school internally.

"The girls and the staff at the school are a really committed bunch of people and they know what they are there for, so I am really looking forward to working with them.

"I think the most immediate challenge at the moment will be to prepare our first matric class of 2011.

"We have to make sure that they are prepared and that the school does well in its first matric results.

"The girls must also be prepared for entrance into university, and that will be one of our most immediate challenges," said Van Zyl.

She said the opportunity offered by Winfrey was a special one.

"It gives the pupils a chance to follow in the footsteps of the many female role models this country has produced.

"If you look at people like Mamphela Ramphela and what she has done for this country, surely they also want to be people of such a stature and achieve great things in their lives," she said.

Van Zyl admits that her passion for girls' education might have been influenced by the fact that she herself attended a girls' school.

"When girls are in a particular environment by themselves, such as in a girls' school, it gives them an opportunity to develop leadership skills and to take responsibility of various situations.

"Some of the opportunities might not have necessarily been there with their male counterparts around," she added.

Van Zyl will start her job as head of the academy in January.

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