The girls’ school set up by Oprah Winfrey in South Africa has suspended seven pupils after they “contravened the school’s code of conduct” by allegedly touching each other sexually.

The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy School For Girls, in Henley-on-Klip, near Johannesburg in South Africa, aims to educate 450 high-achieving female students a year by 2011.

Winfrey’s spokesperson, Lisa Halliday, confirmed today that seven pupils concerned in the controversy were found to have “touched each other intimately”.

It is also alleged that they were “intimidating others into partaking of inappropriate behaviours”.

A letter sent to one of the suspended girls’ parents apparently read: “You have been found guilty of physical contact of a sexual nature with another pupil on campus, harassment, bullying other girls on campus and of being dishonest by not telling investigators the whole truth”.

This is the second time Winfrey’s $46 million (£32 million) school has been at the centre of an alleged sexual harassment case.

In 2007, former matron Virginia Tiny Makgobo, faced 13 charges including indecent assault, common assault, assaulting a minor to perform an indecent act and verbal abuse of pupils, all of which she has denied.

Winfrey herself is yet to comment on the more recent allegations, but this will most likely be a blow to the TV host and philanthropist, who has previously said of her pupils: “These girls are like my children. That’s not just rhetoric for me. I take their futures and the possibility for what their futures hold very seriously.”

The school’s spokesperson, Moliehi Molekoa, said she hoped to be able to provide more information on the seven suspensions soon, according to South African publication The Cape Argus.