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There are movies that are synonymous to South Africa across the world. These movies include Winnie Mandela, Cry the Beloved Country, and of course, Sarafina!. The irony is that one person that has a role in all these movies, playing a critical in Sarafina! is Leleti Khumalo.

Each time the movie Sarafina! comes to mind, what comes to mind very close to the story of suffering, is the acting of a very beautiful young girl, Leleti Khumalo, whom most people simply know as Sarafina.

Leleti Khumalo Biography

Leleti was born in Durban’s KwaMashu Township in 1970. She was raised as one of the child in a family of four, by a single mother as she lost her father in the early age of three.

Leleti started her journey into the entertainment industry with a small unknown dance group called Amajika. While it didn’t show her to the world, it started something for her. It was from this group that she was picked for performance, when Mbongeni Ngema who was an actor and writer, came scouting.

The result of that was the movie Sarafina!, and Leleti Khumalo making a significant leap into acting, which would make her famous forever.

After Sarafina! was produced, Leleti got married to Mbongeni Ngema who was as well the writer of the movie. When they got married, Ngema was 15 years older than Leleti, and already married. The marriage which she would later describe as disgusting came to an end with a divorce in 2005. She walked out ofthe marriage with a child between them.

In 2011, the legendary actress met love again and married a South African business man, Skhuthazo Khanyile in 2012. She gave birth to twins in 2013, after coming top of two miscarriages.

The beautiful actress has a skin condition, vitiligo, which causes the whitening of the skin.

Acting Career

It was the in the play, Sarafina!, that Leleti marked her acting career. The play which turned into a sensational global movie had her playing a major role beside Hollywood’s Whoopi Goldberg. The movie was released in 1992, based on Soweto’s students uprising of 1976 against the apartheid government.

Although the movie, sarafina! was released in 1992, the play was staged in 1987 at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg; and in 1988 it was on Broadway at Cort Theatre in New York City, United States. By 1989, the performances had ended after 597 staging and 11 previews.

Before the 1992 Sarafina!, which was at the time the biggest movie to make it out of the African continent, Leleti appeared in an American documentary film, Voices of Sarafina in 1988.

Leleti Khumalo still participated in the theatre after Sarafina!. Her next big thing was Cry, the Beloved Country, in 1995. Although she acted a minor role, the movie would go global again. The movie was based on a novel by Alan Paton. Two years later, she was in Sarafina 2, which was by Ngema.

 She got a major role in 2004 when she appeared in another big movie, Yesterday. In that same year she was in Hotel Rwanda, and in the next, she was on the movie, Faith’s Corner, and the Soap Opera, Generations, which ran from 2005 to 2008.

She as well appeared in many other movies including Invictus (2009), Hopeville (2009), Africa United (2010), and Winnie Mandela (2011). Her latest appearance is in Soul city (2011) and Uzalo (2015).

Khumalo tried her hands on other things including music and radio presenting. While she still hosts a radio programme, she released her first and only known music album, Leleti and Sarafina in 1993.

Death Reports

In 2016, it was reported and widely circulated that the well loved actress was dead at age of 46. The story began as a hoax by an online account. The news spread wild and fast on social networking sites including Facebook and twitter.

The report had it erroneously, that she acted as Mandela in the hit movie, Sarafina!. It was Uzalo twitter handle that was used to dispel the rumours.

Leleti Khumalo was not the only celebrity in South Africa or globally to be reported dead by online sources and sometimes traditional media. Others in South Africa that were at some time reported dead include AKA, and president, Jacob Zuma, as well as Thabo Mbeki.


  • NAACP Image Award for Best Stage Actress; 1987
  • Tony Award nomination: best Actress in a musical; 1988
  • Alongside Angela Bassett,Whoopi Goldberg and Janet Jackson, Leleti Khumalo was nominated for Image Award; 1992