Leleti Khumalo (born 1970) is a Zulu South African actress who played the leading role in the movie Sarafina! alongside Whoopi Goldberg and who starred in the films Hotel Rwanda and Yesterday.
She was born in KwaMashu township, north of Durban, South Africa. Showing an interest in performing from an early age, Khumalo joined a youth backyard dance group called Amajika, mentored by Tu Nokwe.
In 1985, she auditioned for Mbongeni Ngema’s musical, which later became the international blockbuster Sarafina!, Ngema wrote the lead character of Sarafina especially for Khumalo. She was formerly married to Mbongeni Ngema. But there have been recent speculations that he has had several affairs with different women, including the late Brenda Fassie.
Khumalo performed the role of Sarafina! on stages in South Africa and on Broadway, where she received a 1988 Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical. Sarafina! had a Broadway run lasting two years, after which the production embarked on a worldwide tour. In 1987 Khumalo received a NAACP Image Award for Best Stage Actress.
In 1992, she starred alongside Whoopi Goldberg, Miriam Makeba and John Kani in Darrell James Roodt’s film version of Sarafina!, which had a worldwide distribution, and became the biggest film production to be released on the African continent. Again Khumalo was nominated for an Image Award, together with Angela Bassett, Whoopi Goldberg and Janet Jackson.
Based on the 1976 Soweto youth uprisings, Sarafina! tells the story of a young school girl who is not afraid to fight for her rights and inspires her peers to rise up in protest, especially after her inspirational teacher, Mary Masembuko (Goldberg) is imprisoned.
In 1993, Khumalo released her first album, Leleti and Sarafina.
Sarafina! was re-released in South Africa on June 16, 2006 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the youth uprisings in Soweto.