Leleti Khumalo: 'Vitiligo does not define who I am'

08 May 2016 - 02:00 By Shanthini Naidoo

Leleti Khumalo is kneeling on the floor, vigorously kneading a bowl of dough. Two sets of eager little hands are "helping". They shriek as the sticky, stretchy ujeqe takes a beating.Khumalo and her husband, Skhuthazo Khanyile, grin that infatuated grin of parents sharing a video of their children.The pair were recently in Johannesburg for the premiere of her latest movie, Free State.The morning after, they are in a rush to get home to Durban, to his business and back to their twins, Yamukelani and Ulwenzile, 3.But there is always time for a kid-vid."I work six days a week, so life is hectic. But I make time for them. I have to do things with them, get their hands dirty," she says.Khumalo plays a maternal role in Free State, currently on circuit. She is the domestic worker/mother figure of a young Afrikaans girl who falls in love with an Indian man during the 1970s, when interracial relationships were illegal.story_article_left1Her daily role on SABC telenovela Uzalo is also that of a matriarch, Zandile Mdletshe.Three times a mom.Yet when she visits her mom at her childhood home in KwaMashu, fans still run after her, calling "Sarafina!"The teenage Leleti Khumalo is forever etched on the South African consciousness."It was 24 years ago! Before some of these children were born, but that is what they know. Sarafina," Khumalo, 46, chuckles.She is still youthful, petite. Her smile could sell toothpaste.She wants to do more theatre. "That is my favourite, seeing the audience there. You can feel them. You are not waiting for the response on Twitter. They react now."But recent years have found her on television, in soaps Generations and Uzalo. After significant roles in Hotel Rwanda, Yesterday and Invictus, the local production Free State broke a long absence from the big screen."It was a small role, but I was nervous to watch the premiere. When I did this I was shooting Uzalo in Durban and I would fly or drive to set in between. My mind wasn't settled on one thing. I couldn't focus."Khumalo's performance turned out to be a saving grace in the movie, which featured inexperienced models-turned-actors Nicola Breytenbach and Andrew Govender."I was surprised, I was so proud of myself. My husband said it was the best of me," Khumalo says, turning to look at him.Khanyile admits he is biased.Their story reads like a film script. She had left a toxic marriage to controversial playwright Mbongeni Ngema after nearly fifteen years.block_quotes_start It is not painful, it is just there. On Uzalo the directors asked why I'm hiding it. I assumed I had to wear makeup for TV. But I think it is time to not hide it. block_quotes_endThey met on an aeroplane: he was cabin crew, she was trying to stash a takeaway (chicken wings) under her seat.Ten years later, they are still honeymooning.He says she plans the date nights: "She makes time for us, movies, dinner, even an hour alone."She says: "I wouldn't be the mother I am if he was not as involved as he is. He is more involved than I am with the twins. I said, 'If you were not around I don't know how I would have made it.' I can hold on to my career. It is important, because it completes me," Khumalo says."Life is amazing. Where I am ... this space is something else. I appreciate it, because you know, I was not always happy," she says, referring to her first marriage."He [Khanyile] always shows me that he appreciates me, he is still there for me, he loves me and is attracted to me."Khumalo shares how she and Khanyile dealt with her vitiligo, a skin condition that causes pigment to disappear in patches."I asked him how he feels - 'Are you ashamed of me?' - and he told me, 'I still look at you the same way.'"story_article_right2Khumalo was without makeup the morning of our interview, wearing a buttoned-up, high-collared blouse and large sunglasses.She cancelled the photo shoot because the makeup takes an hour to apply and there was no time for it. It must be applied to her hands, chest and face.Her fans have speculated that she had been burnt.She refers to the condition in a dismissive way, as "it"."Our industry doesn't accommodate things like this, and people do not understand because they don't know me like this. It is a matter of understanding and working with it. It used to affect me a lot; this industry is about looks. But now, I have accepted it."Khanyile intervenes, saying that doctors told them that hormonal changes in pregnancy would exacerbate the condition."These are the choices we make in life. She gave me two beautiful kids. She is still beautiful. We all have scars of life, so this is neither here nor there. I encourage her to not wear makeup, it takes up so much time!"Khumalo adds: "It is not painful, it is just there. On Uzalo the directors asked why I'm hiding it. I assumed I had to wear makeup for TV. But I think it is time to not hide it. People should see you as you are," she says.

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