“You might not be interested in politics but politics is interested in you”

We chatted to interim DA Youth Leader, Nicholas Nyati, about growing up in an Eastern Cape farming community and what drives him to be a public representative at 28.

ChangeMaker (CM): Tell us about your upbringing.

Nicholas Nyati (NN): I was born and raised in a small farming community called Kirkwood in the Eastern Cape. I was the first grandchild to my mother’s parents. My father passed away when I was seven and my mother raised me as a single parent, with the support of her family.

I did my primary schooling in Port Elizabeth and completed high school in Molly Black Burn Senior Secondary school in Uitenhage.

I grew up herding my grandfather’s cattle and riding horses or sometimes donkeys, I have many scars from those days. Sundays where church days and everyone had to go, I was always the first one to wake up on Sundays because grandpa would buy me sweets for church.

As I got older I was given a choice between going to church or cooking, that’s when my love for cooking started. I was always taught to be respectful of elders, women and children. That I must love everyone and the universe will reward me. My grandfather taught me to always stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.

CM: What motivated you to become politically active as a student?

NN: My father gave me the name Nicholas Nyati, The name Nicholas is of Greek origin meaning “victory of the people.” The Greek word “Nike” means “victory” and “Laos” means “people.” When he passed away I decided to use the name and live by it every day.

When I played soccer I became captain and coach to the under seven kids. When I played fencing I became captain for the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) team, which won third place. As a nursing student I saw many students facing difficulties that they could not control, these difficulties were due to the failures of the Student Representative Council and that of national government.

That’s when I founded the NMMU Nursing Society, which tackled these challenges in the absence of the useless SRC at the time. The Nursing Society was crowned best newcomer society at the society awards, and students requested that we contest for SRC.

I then became interested in politics, I went and researched about all the organisations, what they represent and their track-record. The DA Student Organisation (DASO) and the DA came up top in my books, I then had to make that difficult decision of joining DASO.

After signing my membership, I dedicated my whole life to removing the SRC at the time and ensuring that DASO wins election, and I have continued to work hard to insure that we can remove the ANC from the Union Buildings.

CM: You handled the Fees Must Fall protests differently to other student leaders – what did you decide to do and why was this?

NN: At the time I was an SRC president and I was calling for the opening of universities because I did not believe that the so-called “leaders” were genuine. Firstly, we must all acknowledge the fact that there is nothing free, someone has to pay. It does not make sense to say that everyone must have “free education”, how can you justify giving the child of Ramaphosa free education? It makes more sense to give free education to the poor, subsidies to the missing middle and those who can afford to pay must do so.

You have a right to protest but your right must not infringe on the rights of others. All fees must fall protests were illegal. They infringed on the rights of the students who wanted to attend classes, this is why I led the #OPEN NMMU campaign, which later turned into an Open Universities campaign.

There was burning of property and we can never support any form of destruction of property. These so-called “leaders”, would do anything but would never take the fight to the ANC. I argued that the real fight is to vote against the ANC.

CM: You’ve had various jobs in the public sector and politics, both behind the scenes (such as at the Human Settlements department in Nelson Mandela Bay) and as a public representative (as a PR councillor). What makes you want to work as a public representative?

I honestly do not see this as a job but rather a calling. I am a person who believes in being in the arena. The experience of being behind the scenes has helped me a lot to understand how things get done after and before the cameras. It has made me appreciate support staff more because I understand the pressure they go through.

As a public representative I get to influence the direction that the municipality takes, and now as a DA Youth leader I will have the opportunity to be a voice of young people at DA Federal Executive (FedEx) and DA Federal Council (FedCo). This will positively impact DA-led governments across the country.

CM: There are several political parties that many people can join, why did you choose the DA?

NN: We choose political parties because we want to change our lives, receive services and prosperity. All of these can be achieved through governance, the DA is the only party in SA that has a great track-record of governance.

It also embodies the true meaning of the rainbow nation, as reflected in our diverse membership.

CM: What advice would you give young South Africans who feel despondent about South Africa and their opportunities here?

NN: South Africa is our home and it needs all of us to stand up, to save it. You might not be interested in politics but politics is interested in you.

CM: What should be the focus of this Youth Day?

NN: Every generation must identify its struggle, and actively participate in addressing that struggle. Young people face crime, unemployment and poverty – we must stand up and provide practical solutions to these problems.

We must also raise our hands to be counted amongst the millions that will be working tirelessly to remove the ANC in 2024.

We are the heroes we have been waiting for, our country needs us at the forefront because WHEN THE YOUTH WORKS, SOUTH AFRICA WORKS.