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Oprah gives rousing tribute to Nelson Mandela on South Africa visit

Oprah Winfrey during a tribute to Nelson Mandela at the University of Johannesburg in Soweto Credit: AP

Oprah Winfrey has delivered a rousing tribute to Nelson Mandela on a visit to South Africa as she told the country's youth there was "no such thing as failure".

The philanthropist and former talk show host was given a rapturous reception from the audience at the University of Johannesburg as she gave a speech on her 36th visit to the country.

Ms Winfrey acknowledged the high unemployment, poverty and other social challenges that continue to face South Africa, 24 years after its first all-race elections after the end of white minority rule.

Despite the challenges facing young people in the country, Ms Winfrey, who opened an academy for girls in South Africa a decade ago, told them not to give up.

“Your day will come. I applaud your resilience,” Winfrey told a cheering crowd in Soweto.

“I say there’s no such thing as failure. Failure is just a mistake trying to move you in a better direction.”

Oprah Winfrey at the event in Soweto Credit: Themba Hadebe/AP

“Because it is your fresh perspectives that are going to bring about unprecedented innovation for this country. We need you," she said.

The event was co-hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation and is one of a series of events being held this month to mark a century since South Africa’s first black president was born.

Ms Winfrey, who stayed with Mr Mandela and his wife Graca Machel during one of her visits to South Africa, said he was her "favourite mentor".

“He was a man who could have sought revenge, but instead he sought reconciliation," she told the audience.

Mr Mandela, who died in 2013 aged 95, spoke of his years in prison during apartheid, as well as his concern about the corrosive effect of poverty, Ms Winfrey said.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, left, with Oprah Winfrey and Graca Machel at the University of Johannesburg Credit: Themba Hadebe/AP

Mr Mandela “could have crushed his opponents with his power. But instead he chose to defeat them without ever dishonouring them”.

Ms Machel, an advocate for women’s and children’s rights, joined Ms Winfrey on the stage and also spoke about hardship.

“We are a wounded society,” Ms Machel said, and making reference to the pervasive violence against women and children.