100 World Class South Africans: Leleti Khumalo

Drama queen

An 18-year-old from KwaMashu township becomes a star on Broadway, is nominated for a Tony and wins the NAACP Award for best actress in a musical.

Sounds like a film script, but it’s the true story of Leleti Khumalo. She made movies, too, with Whoopi Goldberg (Sarafina! 1994), James Earl Jones (Cry the Beloved Country 1995) and Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda 2004), and starred in SA’s second Oscar-nominated film Yesterday (2004).

Khumalo may be better known to some as Busi in Generations, but it’s as Sarafina that she takes her place in entertainment history.

The musical ran for 597 performances on Broadway, followed by two years of touring the US.

The premiere of the movie was attended by Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Thabo Mbeki, and Khumalo was nominated for a Film Image Award alongside Angela Bassett and Janet Jackson. Sarafina! asked an important question: what happens when one voice has the courage to stand up against thousands and is joined by another and another?

But it was Khumalo herself who inspired thousands of girls to dream of a better future.

Today, her Leleti School Grounds Programme helps to educate youngsters through sport on various issues, such as teen pregnancy and drug abuse.


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