On the streets of Johannesburg, Philani Dladla is known as "the pavement bookworm." The locally famous homeless man, who sold books and book reviews to get himself off the street, now has a memoir on the horizon. The Pavement Bookworm hits store shelves in late October. That's kind of a big deal for anyone, but even more so for Dladla, who lists "becom[ing] a published author" as his only personal goal.
Dladla moved to Johannesburg for work, but drugs were more alluring. The 25-year-old was soon homeless and living with a group of fellow addicts. Wanting to be different from the other panhandlers on the street, he tried to think of a service he could perform in exchange for the same small donations his compatriots were getting. "I noticed how many beggars there were getting money for nothing on street corners," Dladla says. "I thought I could be different and actually give people something worthwhile — like a book or book review — in exchange for money."
A book nerd since the age of 12, Dladla inherited 500 books from the man who gave him his first. When he wound up on the streets, he began selling off titles he had already read. Drivers and pedestrians paid between $1 and $6 for his books, and also paid him for chats about books and authors. Dladla used the money to buy soup and bread for his friends instead of drugs. He eventually managed to save enough money to rent an apartment, but that didn't put an end to his good works.
Dladla made headlines last summer for giving books away for free to Johannesburg schoolchildren. He started an after-school Book Readers' Club where children could read and discuss books while waiting for their parents to get off work. Dladla says he gives children free titles on one condition: "that they come back and tell me what they learnt from reading it." The Book Readers' Club has a website where individuals can donate books or sponsor a child.
In all his work, the formerly homeless man is doing his part to combat poverty and substance abuse among young people. "Too many kids lose their way after high school," Dladla says. "[M]any of them turn to drugs, alcohol and crime. I want to change that." If you're intrigued by his story, look for The Pavement Bookworm in stores later this month.
Image: Tebogo Malope/YouTube