Leleti Khumalo (March 30, 1970) is a 53-year-old South African actress nicknamed Sarafina for playing the titular role in a 1992 freedom musical of the same name. Since the role, Leleti’s nickname of Sarafina became an integral part of the story about the end of Apartheid in South Africa. Leleti Khumalo has a net worth estimated to be around $1 million
The iconic actress was just 15 when she achieved worldwide fame as Sarafina. She remained a media sweetheart after taking up a solo music career while featuring in a whole lot of other movies. Although she has not been featured in any movie since 2018, Khumalo has no doubt grown in her art and has amassed an estimated net worth of $1 million. Here is a timeline of what the actress has been up to since she rose to stardom.
Leleti Khumalo Started Her Acting Career As a Teenager
The beautiful Leleti was born in the northern part of Durban in a town called KwaMashu in South Africa. According to her, she grew up in abject poverty with a mother (Theressa Tanyiso-Khumalo) who was a domestic laborer as she lost her father when she was only 3 years of age. As Leleti grew up, things didn’t get better but she found joy in performing. She soon joined a youth dance group called Amajika. The group was mentored by Tu Nokwe and this was where she began to hone her skills as an actor, singer, and dancer.
While she and her dance crew were rehearsing in a garage, she caught the attention of Mbongeni Ngema who was looking for a cast for his upcoming musical. He then approached her about auditioning and featuring in his production. Leleti who had been looking for an opportunity to launch her career accented and he reportedly wrote the character of Sarafina for her.
At Age 15, Sarafina Launched Into a Successful Acting Career
Leleti auditioned for her role in Mbongeni Ngema’s musical in 1985 and the musical went ahead to become a global blockbuster, launching the career of all the cast members. Leleti later performed the role of Sarafina all around the world, including on stages in South Africa and on Broadway. Her sterling performance launched her career both locally and internationally and even Leleti recognized her fortune of starting off her career in an internationally recognized production.
At the young age of eighteen, Leleti also earned a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical in 1988. Some of the other accolades she received for playing Sarafina include a 1987 NAACP Image Award for Best Stage Actress. They had a Broadway run that lasted for 2 years before the whole production team embarked on a worldwide tour. Leleti Khumalo made it big very early in her career and according to her, it was a fantastic feeling as she never took the job to be known but did it well because she loved it.
In the year 1992, she acted alongside Whoopi Goldberg, John Kani, and Miriam Makeba, in Darrell James Roodt’s film version of Sarafina. The well-received movie had a worldwide distribution and became the biggest film production to be released on the African continent at the time. The success of the movie culminated in Leleti being nominated for an Image Award, alongside Janet Jackson, Angela Bassett, and Whoopi Goldberg.
One of the reasons why the movie and story of Sarafina have remained relevant is because it’s one that resonates with South Africans all around the world today. It is actually based on the Soweto youth uprising of 1976. The movie narrates the story of a young schoolgirl named Sarafina who is not afraid to fight for her rights. Her courage inspires her peers to rise up in protest, especially after her beloved teacher, Mary Masombuka (who was played by Whoopi Goldberg) is imprisoned and consequently murdered. The story continues to resonate with the youths today after several decades. The movie has come to be regarded as a national treasure and it was re-released on the 16th of June 2006 in South Africa to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the youth uprisings in Soweto.
She Has Featured In a Number Of Other Successful Films
Following the success of Sarafina and her relationship with Mbongeni Ngema, it’s no surprise that Leleti featured in other productions of the award-winning filmmaker. She starred in his international musical titled Magic at 4 AM which was dedicated to Muhammad Ali. Some other works of Mbongeni that she featured in include Mama (1996), which toured Australia and Europe, and also Sarafina 2 in 1997.
In retrospect, fans can now understand why the talented actress didn’t feature in as many movies and productions as they expected, considering the way her career took off. After her marriage to Mbongeni ended, she revealed that she got offers in several productions in which she would have loved to partake in but wasn’t permitted to do so. She revealed that he might have been jealous of the success she was experiencing.
Leleti was later featured in the 2004 movie titled Hotel Rwanda, which is based on a real-life story during the Rwandan genocide of 1994. In the same year, she was featured in the movie Yesterday which was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of “Best Foreign Language Film” in 2005. The movie Yesterday is another successful one that Leleti starred in as it got good reactions at the Toronto and Venice International Film Festivals and won the Best Film award at India’s Pune International Film Festival.
After the end of her first marriage in 2005, it appeared that her acting career did pick up, she joined the cast of one of South Africa’s longest-running soap operas, Generations as Busiswe (Busi) Dlomo. Her character is an altruistic, classy, and no-nonsense woman who heads up her own publishing empire in Cape Town. After her exit from the TV show Generations, she got a presenter job with a South African radio station called Vuma FM. After a two-year hiatus to take care of her children (twins) whom she had in 2013, Leleti appeared on screen again in 2015 with a feature in Uzalo where she played the role of Zandile Mdletshe until 2018.
In 2016, she made appearances in Free State and Cry for Love. In 2018, she joined the E.TV show, Imbewu: The Seed, where she features as the matriarch Nokubonga Zulu “Mazulu” – Bhengu. She recently became a co-executive producer on the show. In 2015, she was invited to the 18th-anniversary celebrations of the Zanzibar film Festivals in Zanzibar Island, Tanzania, as a chief guest. While speaking about the successes she has enjoyed in her career, Leleti has shared that her strategy is to remain humble and nurture the young generation instead of intimidating them with her star power.
In June 2021, Leleti, alongside the cast of Imbewu: The Seed re-enacted some iconic scenes from Sarafina to celebrate Youth Day. Their one-minute video of them singing the theme song Freedom is Coming Tomorrow quickly went viral. Mzansi marveled at how timeless Leleti and her character Sarafina were with her get-up and dance moves she definitely didn’t look like someone in her fifties.
Leleti Khumalo’s Net Worth Is Estimated At $1 Million
Considering the level of Success Leleti Khumalo has enjoyed in her acting career, it’s no surprise that she has been able to amass a significant amount of money for herself. After all the success, prestige, and opportunities that came with her being cast as Sarafina, she went ahead to establish herself as a powerhouse in the entertainment industry which has further increased her net worth.
Khumalo’s net worth is said to be around $1 million. She is one of the highest-paid actresses in South Africa with a career spanning over four decades.
According to the rumor mill, she earns between R95000 to R120000 per month, depending on scenes she features in on the South African TV drama series – Imbewu: The Seed. This, asides from what she might be earning from endorsements and her other endeavors. Asides from acting, she is a writer and a singer. She released her first album titled Leleti and Sarafina in 1993.
Despite having a successful career, Leleti’s marriage to Mbongeni Ngema might have done some harm to her career progression, considering the few movies in which she has appeared in. She kept up with the farce of having a successful marriage for years and people didn’t know what she was enduring behind closed doors. According to her, she was never allowed to do what she liked or appear in other people’s movies during the course of her marriage to Mbongeni so it’s possible that she could have become a bigger actress if she wasn’t caged by her now-former husband.
Despite this, Leleti is a hard worker who is not afraid to pick up the pieces of her life and move on. From several accounts of how she met her current husband, she once worked as a cabin controller for South African Airways (SAA). All is good that ends well. Leleti has made good money from her acting career and other ambassadorial and endorsement deals. While she is not the type to spend lavishly due to her humility which is a core part of her, Leleti is successful and living a good life. Moreover, she is married to a successful businessman – Skhuthazo Winston Khanyile who is not afraid to spoil her with all the love and money she requires.
The Actress Is Living Her Best Life With Her Husband And Twins
Leleti Khumalo has shown that like the character which she is known for portraying, she is made of sterner stuff. What she has gone through in her life would have broken a lesser person but she has risen above the ashes. After the breakdown of her 14 years of an abusive marriage to Mbongeni Ngema, she decided to pick up the pieces of her life and move on.
During the time of their separation, she met Skhuthazo Winston Khanyile. Their relationship started immediately and has never stopped. Six years after the end of her first marriage, in 2012, Leleti and Skhuthazo were married in an intimately private and traditional ceremony. Leleti did not have any child in her first marriage but has gone ahead to welcome a set of twins with her present husband on the 24th of May 2013. Her social media pages are rife with adorable pictures and videos of her twins (Ulwenzile and Yamukelani Khanyile).
One of the reasons why Leleti remains a media sweetheart is that she likes to keep it real with her fans. She has shared the struggle and the series of miscarriages she had before birthing her twins. According to her, she was actually pregnant with triplets but miscarried one of them. She believes that all the painful experiences of the past have prepared her for the beautiful life she now enjoys. She has no regrets about ending her first marriage as it has led her to find her happily ever after.
Leleti Khumalo Is One Of The Few Celebrities Openly Living With Vitiligo
For someone who spent her teens and formative years acting, touring, and being a celebrity, Leleti practically grew up in the spotlight so it is natural for her to be sensitive about her appearance. She shared that she first noticed the white spots on her thigh when she was just 18 years old but shrugged them off as they weren’t painful. When she was about 24 years of age, she noticed that it was spreading to other parts of her body, especially her face, neck, and hands. She shared that she became vulnerable about her body and would spend hours using makeup to conceal the whiteness.
She also shared that she took several drugs, including herbs to make it go away before she discovered that she was suffering from a condition called Vitiligo. This is a disorder that ruins skin pigment cells, causing the loss of skin color in blotches. Leleti Khumalo has used her platform and celebrity status to create more awareness about Vitiligo, educating the populace, especially the young ones about it. The white patches have spread more over the years, appearing on her face, hands, and other parts of her body but she has chosen to stop hiding and is comfortable in her new skin.
The actress has also credited her husband for helping her come to terms with having vitiligo. She shared that when she was at the height of her grief and sadness, she asked him if he felt differently about her because she looked different but he reassured her she still remains beautiful to him, and to her that is all that really matters.