Leleti Khumalo was born on 30 March 1970 in Kwa Mashu Township, the North of Durban. Growing up a poverty-ridden township, she became a member a youth backyard dance group called Amajika where she met Tu Nokwe, who became her mentor. Leleti enchanted audiences in South Africa and on Broadway when she appeared in Sarafina, a production based on the Soweto uprising of June 16, 1976. She was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress. Sarafina! Spent two years on Broadway before embarking on a worldwide tour. In 1987 she received an NAACP Image Award for Best Stage Actress.
Khumalo was a force to be reckoned with as a black South African actress during apartheid era.In 1991, together with Whoopi Goldberg, Khumalo starred in Darrell James Roodt's film version of Sarafina!, distributed worldwide, and became the biggest film production to be released in the African continent. Again she was nominated for the film Image Award together with Angela Bassett, Whoopi Goldberg and Janet Jackson.
Sarafina! tells the story of a 1976 student uprising in Soweto against apartheid, and includes moving and horrible accounts of youth being tortured by South Africa’s security police or just disappeared and never to be heard of or found. Until she auditioned for the play, Khumalo rarely considered the inju stice of apartheid--it was just the way things were. "When I was a little girl, I just thought it was natural for all black people to be so very poor," she was quoted as saying in a 1992 Premiere magazine story. "In South Africa, you don't think you're oppressed. You don't know until you get out of the country. They don't show what's happening on TV."
Khumalo then got married to Producer Mbongeni Ngema. This was Ngema’s second marriage. It was seen as extremely controversial.In 1993, Khumalo released her first album, Leleti and the Sarafina, and co-starred in Ngema's international hit musical Magic at 4 AM which was dedicated to the legend of Muhammed Ali.
Khumalo returned to theatre with the production Koze Kuse, written by Sello Maake Ka-Ncube. She then featured in Darrell James Roodt's film Cry, the Beloved Country (1995) based on Alan Paton's novel, produced by Anant Singh and starring Richard Harris and James Earl Jones. In 1997, she also starred in husband, Ngema's Sarafina 2.
Leleti was also acclaimed for her role in The Zulu (1999), written and directed by Mbongeni Ngema, about King Cetshwayo and the Battle of Isandlwana, fought during the Anglo Zulu War. Khumalo also appeared in the television series The African Skies and in a number of television commercials. Her third biggest role was of Busisiwe Dhlomo in SA’s number one soap Generations between 2005 and 2007. Her last appearance on the show was in June 2008.
Khumalo has been married to Mbongeni Ngema since 1992. The couple separated in 2005. Khumalo has played the lead role in three feature films: Sarafina! (1992), Yesterday (2004) and Faith's Corner (2005). She remains a powerhouse and South African icon.