Philani Dladla credits his love of books with helping him overcome a drug addiction – and getting him off the streets. Now, the man known in Johannesburg, South Africa, as the “pavement bookworm” has written a book himself.
His aptly titled memoir The Pavement Bookworm will be released by South African publisher Jacana Media in late October. The book will share the story of how Dladla’s love of reading transformed his life and led him to help others.
“On my twelfth birthday, I was given the first birthday present I d ever received,” Dladla writes on his website. “It was a book from the man my mother worked for as a caregiver.”
That book, Dladla tells Nalibali.org, was a 175-page work of political nonfiction entitled The Last White Parliament. Even though most of it was difficult for 12-year-old Dladla to understand, he loved it and read it over and over until he could grasp its difficult language.
When that same man died, he left his collection of 500 books to the young boy. From then on, Dladla says he always tried to keep a number of books on him wherever he went. Dladla followed his mother’s footsteps and became a healthcare worker, until a series of bad choices landed him on the streets.
“I got too comfortable and I started experimenting with drugs,” he told Nal’ibali. “I suppose I did it to fit in with my new friends. Johannesburg is a tough place.”
Instead of panhandling, the young man offered book reviews to passing motorists to earn income, as documented in a series of YouTube videos by Tebogo Malope.
When he was finished reading, Dladla would either sell his books to adults or give them away for free to children, “because they can still take this reading thing and turn it into a life long habit,” he said in the video.
“With some self-motivation and a lot of self-help books, I made the decision to stop taking drugs,” he explains on his website. Eventually, Dladla was able to pay rent again and even earned extra income that he used to start a book club for kids in a local park.
“I give them books on the condition that they come back and tell me what they learnt from reading it,” he says.