Police questioned eight people Friday after discovering an investment scam that used Oprah Winfrey’s name days after she interviewed prospective pupils in South Africa for her new all-girls school.
Some 500 people crowded into a community center in the eastern city of Grahamstown after being told that they had to make a simple payment of $1.40 with the promise of then receiving $168 per month for 10 years. Police said Winfrey knew nothing about it.
Authorities who went to the community center Thursday after hearing locals boast about their pending windfall were shouted at and told to go away, the South African Press Association reported Friday.
“This process is believed to have started earlier this week,” regional police spokesman Mali Govender told SAPA. “By word of mouth the community were informed of this easy way of making money.”
Police confiscated 160 applications and returned nearly $280, he said.
Scams are a frequent occurrence in South Africa, targeted mainly at the poor and uneducated. The latest one was apparently fueled by publicity surrounding Winfrey’s brief visit to the country to interview prospective pupils for the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls.
At a ceremony Sunday, Winfrey selected all 73 girls aged 11-12 who had shown up for interviews. More children from other parts of South Africa will be chosen later this year.
Lisa Halliday, a spokeswoman for the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation, said that in the first year the aim is to admit 150 students and that ultimately there will be place for 450 girls in grades 7-12.
The academy, which is to open in January, has the blessing of South African education authorities who donated the site south of Johannesburg. The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation contributed $40 million toward the establishment of the academy.
“It is a positive thing for South Africa,” said local education department spokesman Lusufi Banyaza. “We used to have private schools denying access to the poor on cost grounds. Now girls will be able to get access to quality private education.”
South Africa’s education system still suffers from the legacy of apartheid. Private schools have top-class study and sporting facilities but are still dominated by the white minority as they are too expensive for many black and mixed-race South Africans.
Many state-funded schools, especially in the sprawling townships that sprung up under white racist rule, are hopelessly overcrowded and lack even basic facilities such as books.