The Pavement Bookworm

Philane Dladla

Jacana / Blackbird Books, October 2015

200 pages


An avid reader with an insatiable desire for knowledge, Philani has used his love for books to overcome drug addiction and change his lot in life – while trying to do the same for others. Philani’s story is one of triumph and redemption that will touch the hearts of all who read it.

Philani grew up in KwaZulu-Natal, and when he was 12, he received a gift, his very first book, from his mother’s employer, who also left him his book collection when he died. His mother him moved to Johannesburg as a last resort to save him from himself and the bad behaviour that would see him not complete Matric. He worked in a home for the elderly after his arrival and enjoyed looking after and chatting to the residents. He was doing well and even moved into his own apartment.

But Philani began to experiment with drugs, thus losing his job and finding himself on the streets under the Nelson Mandela bridge, a place he would call home for several years. He had horrible things happen to him and the people around him, and it made him realise that his addiction would lead him down a fatal road.

“I decided I needed to save myself. I chose not to keep any money so I could avoid buying drugs.” Anything I got I immediately spent on food … and books.”

It was through the bag of books that he had managed to keep from his inherited collection that Philani would start turning his life around. Philani started reviewing them and selling them to motorists driving up Empire Road in Johannesburg. He demanded a price according to how he rated the work in question.

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