When movies like Winnie Mandela, Cry the Beloved Country, and Sarafina! are being talked about anywhere in the world, no other place but South Africa comes to mind. Another thing or rather a person that also comes to mind and has become famous as a result of her appearances and outstanding performances in the movies is actress Leleti Khumalo.
The Durban native, who was born in Durban’s KwaMashu Township in 1970, was raised by a single mother following the death of her father when she was three years of age. Despite the hardship she had to face as a result of her growing up in a racially divided country, the young girl channeled her energy into what would later turn out to be a successful acting career.
Khumalo’s journey to stardom began in her teenage years when she joined a local small and unknown dance group called Amajika. While her role there did not directly put her talents on front and center stage, it proved to be a good launching board as her performances with the group was noticed by actor and writer Mbongeni Ngema who went on to write the lead role of Sarafina in the musical of the same name for her.
Why is Leleti Khumalo Famous?
Leleti Khumalo achieved worldwide fame as a result of her performance in the role of Sarafina. The musical, which was based on the 1976 Soweto youth uprisings that were propelled by Afrikaans being made the medium of instruction in local schools in South Africa, tells the story of a young schoolgirl who fights for her rights and inspires others to protest after her inspirational teacher is imprisoned and murdered by the apartheid regime.
Sarafina! was first performed in 1987 in South Africa, at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg. The following year, it moved to Broadway and the young actress received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical. In the year before that, she had received an NAACP Image Award for Best Stage Actress for the same role.
The musical would go on to enjoy a two year run on Broadway before the production embarked on a worldwide tour. It received Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Choreography, and Best Direction of a Musical during its run.
By 1992, Hollywood producers opted to turn the musical into a feature film that starred other actors like Whoopi Goldberg, Miriam Makeba, and John Kani. Leleti Khumalo reprised her lead role in the film that was distributed worldwide and became the biggest film production to be released on the African continent, thus making her one of the most famous people on the continent.
The actress’s next high profile appearance came in 1995 in Cry, the Beloved Country, a movie based on a novel of the same name by Alan Paton. Although she played a minor role as compared to her previous one, the movie which starred James Earl Jones was very successful internationally.
In 1997, Khumalo starred in Sarafina 2, which was made by Ngema. Not much was subsequently heard from the actress until 2004 when she appeared in both Hotel Rwanda and Yesterday, two very successful and highly acclaimed movies. In the following year, she appeared in the movie Faith’s Corner and was added to the cast of the Soap Opera Generations which ran from 2005 to 2008.
What Is She Up To Now?
In addition to acting which she still continues to do to this day, Leleti Khumalo has tried her hand at a few other things including music and radio presenting. Her first album, which was released in 1993, was titled Leleti and Sarafina. There have been a few reports that she is working on a new project but nothing has been released so far.
Some of the films and TV series she has appeared in recently include Invictus (2009), Hopeville (2009), Africa United (2010), and Winnie Mandela (2011). Others are in Soul city (2011) and the SABC1 telenovela Uzalo (2015 -2018). She currently plays Mazulu on e.tv’s Imbewu.
In 2016, it was reported that the well-loved actress was dead at the age of 46. The story began as a hoax online but spread like wildfire on social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter. The Twitter handle for the show Uzalo, however, dispelled the rumors.
Other Facts about Leleti Khumalo
1. She was married to Mbongeni Ngema as his second wife. The union, which she has since described as disgusting, came to an end with a divorce in 2005. The pair have a child together. The legendary actress is now married to South African businessman Skhuthazo Khanyile whom she has twins for.
2. Khumalo has the skin condition vitiligo which causes the whitening of the skin.