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The Star of Sarafina! - Leleti Khumalo

Dec 01, 2020 08:00AM ● By Boitumelo Masihleho
Leleti Khumalo

Born in 1970 in Kwa Mashu township in KwaZulu Natal, Leleti Khumalo had no idea that she would grace stages and the silver screen. Sadly her father died when she was three years old, and her mother supported her and her three siblings as a domestic worker. Despite the harsh reality of poverty, Khumalo found happiness in music and dance and joined a youth backyard dance group called Amajika. It wouldn’t be until 1985 that her road to stardom would truly begin.

Khumalo met South African musician, actor, and playwright Mbogena Ngema while he was scouting for talent for his latest play, Sarafina! Sarafina! tells the story of the 1976 student uprising in Soweto against the apartheid regime. In a 1992 Premier magazine story, Khumalo said she rarely considered what the apartheid government did as injustices. "When I was a little girl, I just thought it was natural for all black people to be so very poor," said Khumalo. "In South Africa, you don't think you're oppressed. You don't know until you get out of the country. They don't show what's happening on TV."


Before it was adapted into a 1992 film starring Whoopi Goldberg and Miriam Makeba, Sarafina! went on Boardway in 1988 at the Cort Theatre where it had 597 performances and 11 previews. Khumalo was nominated for a Best Actress Tony Award in 1988 and nominated for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Image Award. Throughout the 1990s, Khumalo starred in a number of Ngema’s plays, who became her husband. These productions included his international musical hit Magic at 4 AM and 1997’s Sarafina 2.

Movie and television roles streamed in for Khumalo. She is well-known in her home country for her role as Busisiwe Dhlomo in South Africa’s number one soap opera drama Generations. Khumalo’s acting skill garnered further international praise in 2004 when she starred in Yesterday, a powerful movie about the social aspects of the AIDS crisis in Africa. The film was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2005 Academy Awards and won Best Film award at India's Pune International Film Festival. In recent years, she has moved behind the scenes with her own production company, Luyks Productions, to focus on recognizing more Black talent.


Khumalo is also passionate about education and launched the Leleti School Grounds Programme to educate the youth through sport on various issues such as teenage pregnancy and drug abuse.

In 2019, Khumalo embraced the rare skin disease she has, vitiligo, and appeared on TV screens across South Africa without makeup in her role as MaZulu in the drama Imbewu: The Seed. Her skin condition started appearing when she was in her teens but it was only when she was pregnant did she realize she had the rare auto-immune disease. “In my industry, appearance is everything. I used to be desperate for a cure. Now I want to show people, this disease doesn’t change who you are,” said Khumalo.



South African History



 Boitumelo Masihleho is a South African digital content creator. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Rhodes University in Journalism and Media Studies and Politics and International Studies.  

She's an experienced multimedia journalist who is committed to writing balanced, informative and interesting stories on a number of topics. Boitumelo has her own YouTube channel where she shares her love for affordable beauty and lifestyle content.