Leleti is well known for the role she played in the film Sarafina. I met Khumalo at the 2015 Zanzibar International Film festival,18th ZIFF anniversary. Sarafina tells of a story of a student in 1976, who managed to rise up against apartheid in Soweto. It also includes horrible accounts of youths being tortured by the South African police where some even disappeared and have never been heard of. Until Leleti got in to the auditions of the play, she had rarely considered the injustice of apartheid. She thought that it was normal and natural for a black person to stay poor. This film gave her much of her fame she has up till today and earned her several awards. Leleti also starred in Sarafina 2 in 1997.
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). In 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.
Sarafina! 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. 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. She also 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.
Seif Kabelele & Leleti Khumalo
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, 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. 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.