‘Sarafina!’ star Leleti Khumalo says film is still as relevant today as it was 31 years ago

A young Leleti Khumalo in a scene from “Sarafina!”. Picture: Supplied

A young Leleti Khumalo in a scene from “Sarafina!”. Picture: Supplied

Published Aug 8, 2023


Sarafina”, one of the most iconic films to come out of South Africa, is being revisited this Women’s Month.

Starring three powerful women, Whoopi Goldberg, Leleti Khumalo and Miriam Makebe, it first released in 1992 and has now been been digitally remastered 31 years later to screen at IMAX theatres nationwide from August 11.

Whoopi Goldberg and Leleti Khumalo in “Sarafina!”. Picture: Supplied.

The new experience promises to recreate the magic once again when the lights go off in the cinema.

Over decades the film, which tells the story of the Soweto protest against making Afrikaans an official school language, has enjoyed major success.

Most recently it formed part of the Cannes Classics Official Selection and was subsequently acquired for international sales.

Its timely release during Women’s Month is a poignant tribute to the indomitable spirit of the brave women who took part, and an acknowledgement of their sacrifices in the quest for freedom.

The new “Sarafina!” poster. Picture: Supplied.

Award-winning actress Khumalo said the re-release is a celebration and a privilege.

Beaming with unmistakable pride, she added: “We are all very excited about ‘Sarafina!’ It is a celebration indeed. Being called back to show at Cannes after 31 years is rare and the re-release is such a privilege.

“The film is about our history, so people from all over the world are re-emphasising that it is something that is one of a kind, therefore it will never go away.”

On how the film relates to women in today’s society, she said that, just like the women in the film had hope, so too should women today.

“We all go through different struggles in life, but what is important when you are going through that journey is that you must have hope. ‘Sarafina!’ is about hope. I think everyone is included there, be it teenagers, women or teachers.

“All of them are going through their different struggles.

“As women, go through your struggles, fight your fight, but always know that having hope can help us with winning,” said the actress.

Taking a trip down memory-lane, Khumalo said that 31 years ago, as a 21-year-old actress playing the role of Sarafina, she never dreamed that the film will make such great strides globally and become part of history as well.

“When we were making 'Sarafina!’, no one thought it was going to be so huge. At that moment we were just focused on delivering the way we were suppose to, we weren’t thinking if it was going to be a success.

“It started as a theatre production before being done as a movie, there was no special feeling, we just had fun.

“At times, we would even forget that we are talking about our history but the seriousness of it started when we were filming with the likes of John Kani, Whoopi Goldberg and Miriam Makeba.

“Once you take something to the big screen, you’re introducing it to the world.

Miriam Makeba in ‘Sarafina!’. Picture: Supplied

“After 31 years, I think it should be our national anthem. Every year on June 16, people should celebrate the day using ‘Sarafina!’,” she added, jokingly.

Khumalo continued: “A year ago I introduced the movie to my children and they loved it, they associated and understood it in such a way like it was done yesterday. They said it’s a sad movie, but when everybody sings and dances they had fun.

“When the movie was released 30 years ago, a lot of people went to the cinemas and supported the movie because they could relate. I think now parents owe it to their children, or teachers owe it to their learners, to make sure they take them to the cinemas and show them a part of our history and how we got our freedom.

“I can’t wait to see the lines at the cinema again. We are truly reliving the moment.”

A dance scene in ‘Sarafina!’. Picture: Supplied.

Explaining her thoughts on celebrating women this August, she argued that one month was not enough and that women should always be taken care of.

“They should be at the forefront. Women are making sure that their households, husbands and children are being taken care of. I believe their rights should be different, we should always be favoured as women, everything that talks to a women should be different from men.

“Equality issues arise when women see that they aren’t being taken care of. They then tend to ask, ‘Why am I different to a man or what makes me different?’

“I always differ with that. We are not men, we are women, we need to be treated as such, we need to be seen, heard and respected.”

Other than marking Women’s Month with the re-release of this historic film, Khumalo is hard at work, hoping to tell stories of her own.

“I am working on producing now. It is something that is new and challenging, but I am excited. We have such rich stories in South Africa which we need to tell, so that’s what I want to do.”

∎ “Sarafina!” will be released in IMAX theatres on Friday, August 11.