Nyaniso has built a reputable career on stage, television and film. His roles as Muzi (Hear Me Move), Tsietsi (Ashes to Ashes), MJ (iKhaya) and Bongani (Unmarried) won the hearts of many and showed his impressive range as an actor, but there is more to the actor than what meets the eye.
By: Thanduxolo ‘’Thandz” Buti
Nyaniso is a man with multiple facets. We may have become acquainted with him through film and television but the entertainer has long been a prominent figure on theatre stages.
He currently plays one of the leads in the theatre production Nailed, at Market Theatre.
What you may not know is that the star is also an acclaimed dancer and choreographer.
He studied contemporary dance at Wits University and has collaborated with award-winning choreographer extraordinaire, Gregory Maqoma. His impressive dancing skills have seen him tour numerous countries and choreograph a few productions.
The self-proclaimed “Wizard of Art” pulsates with passion and prides himself with using his craft to help heal humanity.
He is also a trained emotional clearing practitioner and is committed to helping men face their pain and vulnerabilities through his acting roles and Facebook group, Vela Tata, a platform he uses to help reconnect men to the power of their hearts.
In-person Nyaniso is no closed book. He is brazenly transparent and appears to be a man who lives for a good conversation. I catch up with him at Outie Bakery & Café outside the Market Theatre already locked in what seems to be another deep conversation with an acquaintance.
He spots a rather scruffy beard and afro, perhaps as part of his current theatre role, but he still glimmers. The man married last year and his marriage seems to bring a ray of light to his life.
While he might seem to have it all together, his journey has not been short of pitfalls. And his story reads like any other story of an artist in search of themselves through art while trying to make an everlasting impact in the industry.
You are currently part of the theatre production “Nailed” which is an adaptation of Niq Mhlongo’s book “Soweto, Under the Apricot Tree”, tell us about that:
Nyaniso: This has been a wonderful story to tell. Niq was part of the process and we also went to Niq’s home in Soweto and sat under the apricot tree where he often sits and gets all the inspiration for the stories that he pens.
He told us that when he wrote the story he was invited to Mpumalanga to a book launch.
When he got there, a lot of people asked him, “How did you know?” and he responded, “How did I know what?” and they replied, “that story you wrote is something that really happened here.” He didn’t even realise that some of the stories he receives are so universal and relevant to things that are happening in our country, now.
I love being able to tell such stories that are relevant and important to people.
You are a multi-disciplined artist. How do you navigate the different spheres with such grandeur?
Nyaniso: I have learned through this process of Nailed to open myself up more and almost be childlike. As an artist you have to be open to relearning because sometimes you forget and also learn some bad tendencies along the way.
TV and theatre are different and sometimes when you’ve been doing a lot of TV, you can take some of the TV tendencies into theatre and vice versa.
Michael Cain, an English actor, puts it so well, he says: “The only difference between TV and theatre is that the other is bigger and the other is more intimate, but the genuineness and authenticity of what you play needs to always be there.”
That taught me how to apply myself in both spaces, and as much as I keep doing it, I still need to constantly remind myself.
I also have my brokenness and wounds that need healing, so I always know that when I tune myself to the underlying feelings that need to be addressed by the character, healing happens for me and whoever receives it. – Nyaniso
You say you are “a great lover of stories that heal broken mindsets.” What exactly does that mean?
Nyaniso: Generally, every human is wounded in one way or another. My biggest drive as a storyteller is to heal, because I am a healer, and I have decided not to separate the two worlds. I have this strong gift of being an actor and entertainer, so why I can’t I heal while doing that?
I always take roles that intrigue me then I look for how I can bring some sense of healing through or to the character, or allow the character to catalyse healing for me.
I also have my brokenness and wounds that need healing, so I always know that when I tune myself to the underlying feelings that need to be addressed by the character, healing happens for me and whoever receives it.
Which characters have you played, that you would say have healed you or kick-started the process?
Nyaniso: My favourite is Bongani, who I played on the Mzansi Magic series, Unmarried. Bongani was married to a beautiful and gifted woman, Thembi, played by Thembisa Mdoda.
I enjoyed telling that story because I had to bring out the vulnerability and the pain of being under the pressure of having to always show up the way people expect you to. I had to reveal the pain and hurt that expectations can sometimes bring.
You also had that complicated character, Muzi, on the groundbreaking, first South African dance flick, “Hear Me Move”. How did that character impact you?
Nyaniso: That role helped me address my daddy issues, because it was about a young man discovering the world without the guidance of a father figure.
It felt like his story was mine because my father was also absent while I was growing up. My mom was not a big fan of him because of the decision he made.
Even today, I am still healing those wounds of having an absent father but that role definitely opened that door for me to begin the healing process.
Funny enough, every story that I have told has been healing whether I was aware of it or not, the difference now is that I am very much conscious of it.
As a boy from the Eastern Cape, what gave you the courage to pursue the arts?
Nyaniso: I was born in Johannesburg, I stayed with my mother and then a year later I was sent home to Queenstown where my other three siblings are.
My mother left home at the age of 17; because of the apartheid hustle she came to Johannesburg to become a domestic worker. But every time I was in Queenstown I would get sick and she would send for me to come back to Johannesburg.
She would send me to doctors then I would be fine and she would send back home but I would be sick again. Now, I believe it was my ancestors or God intervening and laying down my higher purpose.
Eventually I moved permanently to Johannesburg and I got the privilege of getting the best education in the best schools.
I have heard stories of parents not approving when it comes to their kids pursuing the arts but for me it didn’t take much courage to pursue acting.
My mother was just happy that I wanted to further my education after high school, at all, even if it meant pursuing the arts. She was like, “you want to go to university, great, we’ll figure out how to make that happen later.” I was truly blessed to have that privilege.
So . . . why acting?
Nyaniso: I would say that in some way acting chose me. When I was about eight or nine years old, I wanted to be Michael Jackson, because in school they made us watch a Michael Jackson concert in our music class.
I wanted that magic and power he seemed to have. I later realised that I couldn’t be the man but I could be myself.
I really got into acting in Grade 11 when our history teacher told us about her mom, who was a theatre teacher that came in seasonally to our school to stage productions.
She explained that her mom was struggling to get people to audition for a production she was staging that time, which happened to be Grease.
At that time, I knew nothing about Grease but because we loved our teacher so much, I went and auditioned.
The role involved two things that I loved at the time, singing and dancing, but then it also introduced me to acting. After that experience of being on that stage with that production, I realised that this was what I truly wanted and I made a decision to go for it.
We all have our vices and for some it might be drugs and alcohol, gambling etc. Mine happened to be sex. – Nyaniso
What was the first professional role that solidified your position as an actor?
Nyaniso: I went to Wits University and when we were in our third year, my good friend, Jeff Tshabalala, decided to be procreative and create something of his own. He asked me to be part of it.
At that time I felt I had not really stood out as an actor and so I took it as a chance to prove myself. James Ngcobo (an acclaimed director) came to one of the shows to support Jeff.
He was impressed by me and decided to use me for a piece he was going to stage later that year, called Thirst. That’s when my professional journey really kicked off.
Being an artist is quite unpredictable. How do you deal with the stalls in between roles or productions?
Nyaniso: I truly want to make a great impact, worldwide – telling stories, being a healer and bringing new things that humanity can greatly benefit from.
I have always wanted to be more than my character Tsietsi from Ashes to Ashes (E-TV), the first role on prime time that fully thrust me into the spotlight.
I remember even taking a hiatus after Ashes to Ashes, to go and practise as an emotional clearing healer.
So I use the intervals between roles to reflect. Yes! I also go through the anxiety that comes with being a professional actor and sometimes wonder if I will ever get hired again.
I have taught myself to use that time to explore other avenues. Maybe that time off means I must do more theatre, film, writing, directing or dancing – it’s all about remaining active, which is probably why I have never had a dead period in my career.
I am grateful because I feel like God has always had something aligned with me in some way or the other. The Bible says, “Ask and you shall receive”, and I always ask.
What motivated you go on the path of emotional clearing?
Nyaniso: Earlier on in our relationship, me and my wife were going through a difficult time. Before we got married I found myself using sex to deal with a lot of wounds that I had as a man. Porn, strip clubs and brothels became my vice.
We all have our vices and for some it might be drugs and alcohol, gambling etc. Mine happened to be sex.
My addiction put a strain on our relationship until we reached a breaking point. I was caught in between what’s important to me and what was keeping me from it, and that’s when I decided to do all that was necessary to nurture the most important thing to me.
In 2010, my wife met Dane Tomas while she was in Australia, the man who had developed the spiral method. It’s an emotional clearing tool which has been recently recognised as an effective healing method.
I went through the spiral method process which was seven-week long and I was just unravelling things that had been sitting inside and negatively affecting my emotional spaces.
The positive transformation that happened to me and my wife served as evidence that this is a method that is needed worldwide.
She was so transformed by the method and got to a point where she had kind of given up on our relationship and decided to leave and explore what she had just discovered.
I, also being transformed in some way decided to fight for my relationship. I went to go train as a healer too, and it turns out that it was a calling and something I needed.
We trained in Australia for about three months and then we moved to Europe for about four months. After the training we decided to start our company Velo Souls.
Through the company we get to take on clients that we can help go through the process we went through with us and we have been slowly changing lives ever since.
You are one of the few men who found a method that helped you heal and become a better version of yourself. Do you think we can ever get to a point where men can be able to seek emotional help so they can be better human beings?
Nyaniso: Yes! But it’s still going to take a while for men to be comfortable with being emotional and vulnerable. Many of us still don’t know things about ourselves because we fail to go deep and investigate the things that are happening inside of us.
That is why I launched a private group on Facebook, called Vela Tata, where we create a private and safe space that is about brotherhood and cultivating deep connections amongst men. It’s all about creating a movement of men that can be emotional, vulnerable, available and present.
You got married last year. When did you decide to take the big step?
Nyaniso: When my wife was ready to leave me that’s when I realised that she was what I needed in my life. That is why I always encourage women to not be afraid to choose themselves. If you are in any abusive space then you have to choose yourself.
Men are beautiful people but if they are taking out their pain and frustrations on you, then leave. If it is meant to be, he will put in the work and transform so he can be a better partner, and your relationship will flourish.
And how is life as a married man?
Nyaniso: I am truly blessed. When you make a commitment and put money down, a ring down and sign a contract and invest on being on a journey with someone for the rest of your life, a different level of trust kicks in. Your fights are no longer about finding a reason to leave but more about finding ways to understand each other better.
So for me being married is beautiful because that means I am on this journey with someone who is also presently in it with me – someone who wants to tell the whole world and is proud to be on the life journey with me.
To sum it up, what would you say your roles on TV, film or theatre say about you?
Nyaniso: You know I believe that what people say about me has nothing to do with me; it’s their experience, not mine. I think it’s all good and fair to sometimes hear what people say about you, but if you concern yourself too much about it can be harmful.
However, what is important to me are my intentions. What I want people to receive is that I love my fellow men and I am committed to showing them [on TV] in another light. I love people and I want to create an impact that is going to help heal society.