‘Books are a very important part of my life. Books are my wealth and pay my bills. Books have a magic that keeps me going through hard times.’

[Philani Dladla, The Pavement Bookworm, opening line]

Meet Philani Dladla.

You may have seen glimpses of his story that went viral a while back as a young man on a street corner selling book reviews to people. But yesterday morning i got to meet him.

i was given the gift of attending the Big Issue breakfast by my good friend Megan  for my birthday, and an interview with Philani Dladla was the main focus of the morning. We got to hear a whole lot of his story and we got to hear about some of the work he is involved in now.

What do you do when you have a story that involves being bullied, kicked out of school, caught up in drugs, living under a bridge in Joburg [that you have to pay rent for] and trying to keep your feet safe from the rats that would eat peoples’ clothes and occasionally gnaw on their feet? Well you start a readers’ club in a local park for more than 250 young people of course. By yourself.

Described by Caryn Gootkin [deputy chairperson of The Big Issue] as ‘the most selfless person I have ever met’, Philani was humble and eloquent as well as bold in the story he shared to a room full of mostly privileged white folks.

i bought my copy of ‘The Pavement Bookworm’ and look forward to reading it. i took a look at the foreword to see how it is summed up:


‘This chronicle tells tales of multiple losses, triumphs and opportunities. It tells the South African story of finding identity, meaning and being. Through The Pavement Bookworm, we are reminded of the pitfalls of power and privilege and the degrading consequences of neglect, poverty and deprivation.

Sometimes the story sounds unbelievable, a fiction existing in Philani’s imagination. Yet, each page represents the experience of many young men and women in post-apartheid South Africa. Young people who have lived through the perils of broken families and dreams deferred. Young people living through social, economic and urban transitions that come with lives led in homelessness, sexual assault, drugs and alcohol abuse. All in the midst of achievement, progress and social mobility which have been the experience of the majority of young people who have made good of progressive youth development policies.’ [Busani Ncgaweni, foreword]


‘This book is not about homelessness. It is a book about books, about the liberating and healing effects of reading. It takes creativity and courage for a young man in the era of social media to abandon one hundred characters and short-hand in favour of a more painstaking hobby: reading and now, through this project, producing a compelling semi-autobiography.’ [Busani Ngcaweni, foreword]

Joseph Castyline was the man Philani’s mother worked for. This all started when he gave Philani a book [You know, the classic ‘The Last White Parliament’ by Frederick van Zyl Slabbert] and told him that if he read it and could tell him what it was about he would give him more books.

Later on when Philani met the first young people he would help, he gave them each a book and told them the same thing. Show me you mean business and can grasp this thing and I will give you some more. Oh, and bring your friends.

Two hundred and fifty young people and later it grew to books and shoes and homework and more.

i don’t want to tell you too much more because i want you to buy the book and read for yourself.

But make sure you check out The Pavement Bookworm website, which gives insight into Philani’s reviews from a R10 book [Below average but I’ll accept a donation] all the way up to R80 [As good as it gets] as well as informing you how you can get involved in the work he is doing.

‘I have a great plan to make my goals a reality. My plan is to set up a non-profit to raise funds to pay for the kids in my readers’ club to go to college after Grade 12. As long as I’m alive, I want to give kids reasons to look forward to going to school every day and to do well in their studies. A lot of kids don’t care about going to school. If you ask them why they don’t like school, they tell you that their sisters and brothers passed Grade 12 but are still not working, and so for them going to school is just a waste of time. They didn’t even go to college. I want to change that. I want kids to do well at school because thy hope to do well enough to go to university or college when they finish.’ [Philani Dladla, last line of The Pavement Bookworm]

As much as this is ‘just one story’ it is also 250 other stories… plus their families… and all the people who will encounter them on the way and be inspired by them. Sometimes it takes a number of people along the way [Philani’s Acknowledgements at the end of his book are pretty extensive] to walk alongside that ‘just one story’.

Another ‘just one story’ we recently focused on was that of Mapela and with a lot of your help we are 87% of the way to helping her achieve her dream.

Don’t discount the ‘Just one story’s. A successful and united South Africa is going to need to be full of them. The question is how many ‘Just one story’ people are you walking alongside and encouraging, supporting or cheering on right now?