Leleti Khumalo

Leleti Khumalo is South African actress who is best known for starring as the title character in the play and feature film Sarafina!. She has also starred in films such as Faith’s Corner and the Academy Award nominated Yesterday both directed by Darrell Roodt.

Leleti Khumalo
Leleti Khumalo
March 30, 1970
South Africa
Occupation Actress
Radio Personality
Notable Work Sarafina!
Since 1987 – to date


Mbongeni Ngema; 1992 – 2005
Skhuthazo Khanyile; 2012 – to date


Ulwenzile Khanyile (b. May24, 2013)
Yamukelani Khanyile (b. May 24, 2013)

Contact Details

Agent Unknown
Website Unknown

Leleti Khumalo was born in the KwaMashu township in the north of the city of Durban in the province of KwaZulu-Natal.

She is one of four children  although very little if anything at all is know to the public about siblings.

Leleti Khumalo is the daughter of single mother of four (including her), Theressa Tanyiso-Khumalo.

Her father passed away when she was just three (3) year old.

“I was raised by a single parent, my mother Theressa Tanyiso-Khumalo, but she did not spend much time with me and my three siblings because of work.

“She only returned home every month-end and even then she was there only for a few days,” Leleti Khumalo was quoted by Independent Newspapers’ Daily News.

Leleti Khumalo has previously stated that her mother wasn’t always around due to work and she has very few fond childhood memories.

“So when people asked me what my fondest childhood memories of spending time with my mother are, I don’t have many, but now as an adult I have taken a decision to spend as much time as possible with her,” Leleti Khumalo was quoted by the Daily News.

She told Nicky Greenwall in an episode of e.tv’s The Close Up that after her father passed away her mother turned to alcohol, “it was painful to see my mother drink because you see her drink from the morning until the night and she didn’t eat.”

Leleti Khumalo became a member a youth backyard dance group called Amajika, “we were the ‘it’ girls, it was fun and we enjoyed ourselves.”

She met Tu Nokwe who became her mentor when she was part of that group.

At the age of 15 while rehearsing with Tu Nokwe’s dance troupe (Amajika) South African actor, musician and playwright Mbongeni Ngema  arrived scouting for performers.

Mbongeni Ngema came to a garage in which the group was rehearsing, looking for new talent for a musical he was developing, after seeing what Leleti Khumalo  could do he asked if she (Leleti Khumalo) wanted to do a play and she said yes.

The stage play Mbongeni Ngema was working on became Sarafina and Leleti Khumalo was cast in a lead role as the title character; she went on to star in the stage production of Sarafina! which was on Broadway in 1988 and the feature film of the same name – also starring famed American actress Whoopi Goldberg with John Kani and Miriam Makeba – based on that play and released in 1992 worldwide.

Sarafina! told the story of a 1976 student uprising in Soweto against apartheid and brought Leleti Khumalo worldwide fame and acclaim; in 987 she received an NAACP Image Award for Best Stage Actress and in 1988 she received Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical.



Acting Career, 1987 – to date

In 1985 Leleti Khumalo auditioned for Mbongeni Ngema’s stage play, Sarafina! and was cast in a lead role as a title character in what would become an international sensation; it has been reported that he (Mbongeni Ngema) wrote the lead character of Sarafina especially for her (Leleti Khumalo).

Leleti+KhumaloIn June 1987 Sarafina! was presented for the very first time at The Market Theatre in Johannesburg, Transvaal Province of apartheid South Africa (today’s Gauteng province of the Republic of South Africa).

On January 28, 1988 Sarafina! premiered on Broadway at the Cort Theatre on 138 West 48th Street in the Theater District of midtown Manhattan in New York City in the United States of America, and closed on 2 July 1989, after 597 performances and 11 previews.

In 1988 she was featured in Voices of Sarafina, an American documentary film directed by Nigel Noble which chronicles the story of Sarafina! the musical; Voices of Sarafina was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival.

In 1992 Leleti Khumalo starred in the feature film version of Sarafina! alongside Whoopi Goldberg, John Kani and Miriam Makeba; the film was directed by Darrel Roodt.

SarafinaSarafina! had a worldwide distribution deal and, at the time, became biggest film production to be released on the African continent.

It also led to Leleti Khumalo being nominated for another NAACP Image Award together with Angela Bassett, Janet Jackson and Whoopi Goldberg.

She subsequently starred in other Mbongeni Ngema productions; Magic at 4 AM  (1993), Mama (1996) and Sarafina! 2 (1997).

In 1995 she appeared in the feature film “Cry, the Beloved Country” where she portrayed the character of Katie and was credited as Leleti Kumalo.

The film starred James Earl Jones, Richard Harris and Charles S. Dutton with Vusi Kunene as Theophilus Msimangu.

In 2004 Leleti Khumalo starred as title character in a critically acclaimed Darrel Roodt film, Yesterday, which went on to earn a Best Foreign Language Film nomination at the 77th Academy Awards.

YesterdayAlso in 2004 she had a supporting role as Fedens on Don Cheadle fronted Hotel Rwanda.

In 2005 Leleti Khumalo as Faith in yet another Darrell Roodt directed feature film, Faith’s Corner.

In that same year (2005-2008) she joined the cast of Generations as Busisiwe Dlomo (Busi Dlomo), the sister of Sibusiso Dlomo (portrayed by Menzi Ngubane); at the time cast of that soap opera also included Connie Ferguson, Sophie Ndaba, Rapulana Seiphemo and Sonia Sedibe among other notable South African actors.

In 2009 she appeared as Mary on the Clint Eastwood directed film, Invictus, starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon – the film tells the story of the role played by the late former South African president Nelson Mandela in uniting the nation during the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

In the same year she starred as Flo Raphoto in the SABC 2 drama series, Hopeville.

In 2010 Leleti Khumalo featured as Sister Ndebele  in the film “Africa United” and in 2011 she portrayed Adelaide Tambo in the film “Winnie Mandela” starring Jennifer Hudson as Winnie Mandela and Terrence Howard as Nelson Mandela.

Uzalo Promotional PortraitAlso in 2011 she starred as Grace in the eleventh (11th) season of the long running SABC 1 drama series, Soul City, alongside Siyanda Sesimani, Harriet Manamela, Patrick Mofokeng, Dumisani Mbebe, Fana Mokoena and Samkelo Ndlovu. In 2014 Leleti Khumalo was the subject on an episode of a Nicky Greenwall hosted e.tv’s The Close Up.

In 2015 she was cast in a lead role as Zandile Mdletshe on an SABC 1 original telenovela, Uzalo, which is written by famed playwright Duma Ka Ndlovu who is best known for creating the SABC 2 acclaimed soap opera Muvhango and produced by Gugu Zuma-Ncube who is the daughter of the incumbent South African president Jacob Zuma. Uzalo also stars Naymaps Maphalala, Khumbulani Kay Sibiya, Mpumelelo Bhulose, Bheki Mkhwane and Dawn King with Don Mlangeni Nawa, Sihle Ndaba and Jo-Anne Reyneke.





Year Title Role Notes
1992 Sarafina! Sarafina Lead Role, Feature Film
1995 Cry, the Beloved Country Katie Minor Role, Feature Film
2004 Yesterday Yesterday Lead Role, Feature Film
2004 Hotel Rwanda Fedens Minor Role, Feature Film
2005 Faith’s Corner Faith Lead Role, Feature Film
2005 – 2008 Generations Busisiwe “Busi” Dlomo Main Cast, Soap Opera
2009 Invictus Mary Supporting Role, Feature Film
2009 Hopeville Flo Raphoto Lead Role, Drama Series
2010 Africa United Sister Ndebele Supporting Role, Feature Film
2011 Winnie Mandela Adelaide Tambo Supporting Role, Feature Film
2011 Soul City Grace Lead Role, Drama Series
2014 Uzalo Zandile Mdletshe Lead Role, Telenovela





In 1993 Leleti Khumalo released her debut album titled “Leleti and Sarafina”. It is unclear if Leleti Khumalo ever recorded more music since then.




Leleti Khumalo was the host of the breakfast show on Vuma FM, a KwaZulu-Natal radio station which broadcasts in IsiZulu language.



Other Work

Leleti Khumalo founded the initiative called Leleti Khumalo’s School Ground Project in association with Sukuma Sakhe. The programme is aimed at dealing with problems faced by teenagers in a school setting.



Personal Life

Leleti Khumalo was married to famed South African playwright Mbongeni Ngema of Sarafina! fame. She met Mbongeni Ngema during the making of Sarafina!, at the time he was married but Leleti Khumalo who was a teenager at the time and is 15 years younger than him embarked on a relationship with him anyway and they later got married.

Leleti Khumalo and Mbongeni NgemaThe marriage lasted for 13 years from 1992 to 2005; in 2014 Leleti Khumalo spoke to Nicky Greenwall on e.tv’s The Close Up about that marriage to Mbongeni Ngema and described it as “disgusting”.

“I would portray that I am happy, living happily and yet I’m living a disgusting and strange life. The media wasn’t after me because I was a very private person; they could not see that I was living a false life,” Leleti Khumalo said on The Close Up.

Talking about the fact that Mbongeni Ngema was married at the time, Leleti Khumalo was quoted saying, “I kind of had a problem with that, I even asked him and he said he still wants to make me his wife. I continued still because I wanted to.”

She recalled the day of the wedding ceremony, “On the day of the wedding day the wife tried to stop the ceremony.”

“My family was furious they were asking me why I am doing this because he is married,” Leleti Khumalo said on The Close Up.

Leleti Khumalo and her husband Skhuthazo KhanyileIn that interview with Nicky Greenwall she revealed the sanctions imposed on her by Mbongeni Ngema, “I wasn’t living a normal life. I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere I wanted to. I wanted to do different plays but it wasn’t possible. I don’t know if I could say he was jealous of me, I don’t know.”

Leleti Khumalo later divorced Mbongeni Ngema, “I woke up one morning, I don’t know what sparked it, I released a statement that we were divorcing.”

She met businessman Skhuthazo Winston Khanyile (Skhuthazo Khanyile) when he was working at a cabin controller for South African Airways (SAA).

Leleti Khumalo and Skhuthazo Khanyile began dating one years after their first meeting. In 2010 Skhuthazo Khanyile paid Lobola for her and in November 2012 the pair got married. On May 24, 2013 Leleti Khumalo gave birth to the couple’s twin children; Ulwenzile Khanyile and Yamukelani Khanyile.