A gift of literacy: the beginnings of Philani Dladla’s journey

Philani Dladla has a difficult story behind him, but he was able to get back on his feet thanks to his love for knowledge and for the books he sells on the streets after people donated them to him

Philani Dladla, author of “The Pavement Bookworm,” was gifted his first book at the age of 11 on his birthday. This gift, his very first birthday present, was from Joseph Castyline, an elderly man whose caregiver was Philani’s mother in their hometown of Port Shepstone, South Africa.

Joseph Castyline gave him that book with the promise that if he was able to read it and recount it, more books would follow,” Philani recalls. Unfortunately, Mr. Castyline passed away a year later, but true to his word, he left Philani his entire book collection.

This collection, comprising nearly 500 books, included classics from authors like Emily Bronte and Charles Dickens, along with famous titles by Zakes Mda and Steve Biko. However, things soon spiraled out of control.

Despite his mother’s efforts to create a healthier environment, Philani began associating with the wrong crowd and was expelled from high school. After several suicide attempts, his mother decided that a change of scenery might do him good.

The dark period of addiction

In 2008, Philani was sent to Johannesburg to stay with a family friend and find a job. He managed to secure employment and afford housing. However, new temptations lurked around the corner, and Philani soon resorted to using drugs like Nyaope and crack to get through the day. What started as recreational use quickly turned into addiction.

By 2011, he found himself homeless, having lost his job and unable to pay rent. With few clothes and his cherished bag of books, he found refuge among the homeless under the Nelson Mandela Bridge in Braamfontein. He soon realized he needed to generate some form of income to sustain his drug addiction.

His charismatic personality and eager book reviews quickly made him a familiar face on Empire Road, in front of the entrance to Wits University. The local community, especially Wits students, began donating books to him, including their old textbooks, which he sold to make a living.

The birth of The Pavement Bookworm

Philani came into the public eye in 2013 when filmmaker Tebogo Malope interviewed him at his roadside book stall and posted the video online, which went viral. Here, Philani reviewed books and tried to sell them to earn a living, thus birthing The Pavement Bookworm.

Since then, Philani has delivered TEDxTalks in Johannesburg, published his autobiography “The Pavement Bookworm” in 2015, launched several children’s book clubs, started various reading initiatives in communities, and has become a sought-after motivational speaker.

His goal is to restore his literacy projects and expand these to distribute books to underprivileged children throughout South Africa. Unfortunately, mismanagement of funds, poor publishing advice, and exploitation have once again placed Philani in a position of adversity.

No longer frequenting the familiar streets of Johannesburg, where he once sparked hope in the eyes of waiting children, Philani now faces a financial crisis and has moved back to Port Shepstone, where he continues to spread goodness to neighborhood children in his mother’s backyard.

Source: The Pavement Bookworm

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