AS SHE walks into the beautiful boutique hotel, The Concierge Boutique Bungalows in Durban, she captures the attention of patrons having breakfast at the in-house Freedom Cafe.
Leleti Khumalo (49) is spotted wearing sunglasses, a pair of leggings and a white and blue stripped shirt. Far from her often queenly and regal appearance she is known for, she is still noticed by admirers who stare at her with admiration. “Sanibonani,” she greets other hotel guests who are excited to see the iconic Sarafina! star. In an exclusive interview with Move!, she opens up about her life’s journey, her family and continuing to be limitless in her endeavours.
THE BEAUTY OF CHALLENGES
Defining moments in her life have happened behind the scenes, away from the limelight. Her failures, struggles and tears have over the years become her springboard that continues to give her an opportunity to keep on going. She admits that her journey has been blissful. From the time she made her mark in showbiz as a teenage girl, she had the most amazing experiences. “It has been an amazing journey of ups and downs but that is how a journey should be,” she says.
The beauty of her journey has also been met with moments of doubt and sadness but she says, “I’ve learnt that challenges are there for a reason. They are there to strengthen you along the journey. When you go through tough times, it does not mean that it’s over.”
Leleti has previously opened up about her pain and going through depression, especially after losing one of her children at birth but she has not let her life stop as a result of that experience.
MOMENTS OF UNCERTAINTY
Leleti has a skin condition called vitiligo and for years, parts of her body started changing pigmentation. In an industry where beauty is put on a pedestal of glory, she worried about what was going to happen to her.
“This industry is tough. It wants perfect looks but perfection doesn’t exist. At some point, I became depressed thinking the industry would reject me but I slipped out of that and decided to embrace myself as I am,” Leleti says.
It gives her pleasure be able to inspire other people to love themselves for who they are. To aspirants who want to make it big in the industry, she says it takes way more than beauty to be relevant, consistent and memorable for your craft. “There are no shortcuts, you have to be really good at what you do. Hard work, passion and commitment are the ingredients to really making it,” she says, adding that she doesn’t compromise on respect. “When I pray, I ask God to help me respect my craft and the people I work with.”
CONTINUING TO SHINE
The KwaMashu-born actress has been able to evolve and re-invent herself with time. She dabbled as a radio host on Vuma FM at one point and now she has stepped into the role of being a director on Mzansi Magic’s hit drama series, Imbewu: The Seed. “I wake up in the morning to do what I love and I get paid for it. I love this,” she says.
With the support of people like well-known executive producer and director, Duma ka Ndlovu, she says she finds herself being able to step outside her comfort zone with an appetite to learn as much as she can. “Because you are regarded a ‘legend’ doesn’t mean that you are all that. There is always something to learn. There is no way you can say you know it all,” she adds.
ALWAYS BEING ON HER TOES
Leleti plays MaZulu on Imbewu: The Seed, a role she says has reminded her never to be comfortable.
“I love roles that keep me on my toes. I never want to be too comfortable. Most importantly, I love playing roles that are a reflection of what another woman is going through in real life,” she says.
The storyline caused a stir when season one hit the small screens. MaZulu’s children are fathered by her infertile husband’s brother. The family knows but her husband doesn’t.
“There was a lot of backlash but the point of it all is for our craft to tell relatable stories that are a true reflection of a reality in our society. This is why we do what we do,” says Leleti.
She has played many roles in her life but one role that she has a distinct memory of is the movie titled, Yesterday, in 2004. She played a woman who lived in the rural areas and was infected with HIV by her husband who was often away for work.
“That movie really took me to an emotional place I had never been and part of the reason is I was telling a story about the many rural women who go through this horrifying struggle,” Leleti says.
She will be 50 soon and ageing gracefully. “I look like my mother, she is really a beautiful woman,” Leleti explains.
Apart from the good genes, she is particular about what she feeds her body. During the interview, besides her is a cup of green tea and a bottle of still water.
After spending hours with Leleti, she makes mentions of her twin children, a boy and girl (6) as she has to fetch her ‘babies’. “I love my children and husband so much. Everything is complete when I am with them,” she adds.