Change is in your pocket

The Big Issue is a socially responsible non-profit organisation that enables willing unemployed and marginalised adults to take responsibility for their own lives through a developmental employment programme.
PITCH:  Cape Town
AGE:  30

SHOOTING FROM THE HIP

Nicholas ran yoga classes in Gugulethu until he lost the venue, as he could no longer afford the rent.

Nicholas Siyoyo

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Meet Nicholas the yogi

Words & Photograph: Lungisa Mnqwazi

Thirty-year-old Nicholas Siyoyo is the real definition of a hustler. His family neglected him when he was young, which resulted in him growing up on the streets of Cape Town from the age of 10.

“My father was abusive and it was traumatic for us to witness that at an early age. We would go to bed on an empty stomach while my father would buy countless beers. When he was drunk, he would assault my mom.

I left home in 1990 because I felt that my needs were not met and I thought it was better for me to go and survive on my own. I decided to stay on the streets, thinking that that’s where I would receive love and a sense of belonging,” says Nicholas.

“Growing up on the streets causes you to become mischievous because you have to find a way of surviving the harshness of life without a proper home.

It was the only life I knew,” he adds. Two years later, he met a Good Samaritan who took him to The Haven Night Shelter in Khayelitsha and paid for his primary and high school fees, until he dropped out in Grade 11. He parted ways with the Haven Night Shelter shortly afterwards and returned to the streets in 2002. It wasn’t long before Nicholas was back to his old lifestyle of crime. “I had nowhere to go so I had no choice but to resort to my old life. I lived on the streets for another 14 years,” he recalls.

His bad ways finally caught up with him and he ended up in prison from 2012 to 2016. “While I was in prison I joined the rehabilitation program and that’s where I was taught about yoga.

My love for it grew to such an extent that I was made an instructor within my first six months. I continued with the program even after I was released from prison in 2016.”

Nicholas ran yoga classes in Gugulethu until he lost the venue, as he could no longer afford the rent.

“When I left prison, I wanted to change and so I went to live with my younger sister. Within a couple of months, I could feel that I was not welcome at her place. She would sometimes make remarks that I should leave her family alone.”

He felt unloved and that he was a burden to her.

“After staying with her for a while, I found a place to stay as a backyard dweller in Gugulethu. I have been staying there ever since,” he explains.

Nicholas has struggled to find work due to his prison record and survives by selling The Big Issue and doing occasional odd jobs. He is determined to earn an honest living, though.

“I am happy to be back on my feet again. Selling the magazine enables me to pay my rent, buy groceries and live an honest life. I decided long ago that I would never resort to desperate measures like crime again, because of pressure from my peers who knew me when I was mischievous.

“One thing’s for sure, crime doesn’t pay. I have submitted my CV to different restaurants and events companies because I have experience in both industries. When I get a decent job, I’d like to further my education. I want to be a better person,” he says.

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