Oprah Winfrey and CNN's Jeff Koinange in South Africa.
South Africa is used to hosting all manner of celebrities. After all, who wouldn't want a photo-op with one of the world's greatest living legends, Nelson Mandela, the man who spent 27 years in prison and walked out forgiving his tormentors?
But this past week, one celebrity managed to steal the show under Mandela's watchful gaze, and the "old man" didn't mind that it was none other than U.S. talk show host, Oprah Winfrey.
You know the story ... Oprah's $40 million leadership academy for girls in South Africa has generated enough publicity to attract not only the world's media to the tip of Africa, but also Hollywood's elite.
Everyone from Tina Turner to Mariah Carey, from Chris Rock to Chris Tucker, from Mary J. Blige to India Arie, from Spike Lee to Sidney Poitier, and many more have made the journey to the small town of Henley-on-Klip, south of Johannesburg.
Oprah, as usual, was in her element, working the crowds, showing off her "girls" wearing their new green uniforms. Oprah herself picked the uniforms out. (And yes, Oprah does have plans to open an academy for boys, too.)
Oprah, of course, asked everyone to bring a favourite book. Chris Tucker brought Rick Warren's bestseller, "A Purpose-Driven Life."
"It's helped me so much," Tucker told me. (By the way, my choice was the story of Mohamed Amin, the famous cameraman who filmed, among other things, the famine pictures in Ethiopia back in 1984 that led to the whole "We Are The World" campaign. It's appropriately titled, "The Man Who Moved The World." Amin died when the plane he was on was hijacked and later ran out of fuel, crashing into the Indian Ocean in 1996.)
Back to Oprah and her mission.
It's the day after the big event, and Oprah's people have lined-up a press junket for her. She has more than a dozen interviews to do this morning with stations as far away as Chicago and Los Angeles. CNN is first, at 9 a.m. local time, a live-to-tape interview with Anderson Cooper in New York.
Anderson Cooper interviews Oprah about her new school.
Anderson comes up on the satellite. He's stayed up well after his 10 p.m. show (it's now 2 a.m. ET) and he and Oprah are chatting away like old friends. The interview starts promptly. Oprah's great, Anderson's equally great. The whole interview is great. They say their goodbyes over the satellite and Oprah gets up to go get ready for her "sit-down" interviews with the reporters who are there in person.
I grab a bottle of water and hand it to Oprah and ask her if we could do a walk-and-talk in the school courtyard, something different. She agrees immediately: "Whatever you want, Jeff."
The cameras are rolling and we proceed. Oprah talks about why it was important for her to visit the homes of the girls to see what their background was. She spoke candidly about how she grew up poor, how difficult her childhood was, how she overcame certain obstacles and why she feels these girls will do the same.
"I have no doubt that this school will produce the future leaders of Africa," she said. "I'm so excited."
She's excited? Imagine the girls, by this time walking around the campus in little groups, confidence written all over the small faces. They're out of uniform, but wearing matching outfits -- some in orange tops with blue jeans and orange sneakers; others in green tops with blue jeans and green sneakers. It all looks so surreal, so pristine, so nice.
As Oprah and I walk, I feel as though I'm witness to a great event. A woman has come here to South Africa from far away on a mission to make things better, in her own way, one girl at a time.