Philani Dladla, a homeless man living on the streets of Johannesburg, is probably the last person you’d expect to be a bookworm. Yet, the 24-year-old is quite a voracious reader. And instead of begging like other homeless people, he has chosen to make a living by reviewing and selling books.
South African director and cinematographer Tebogo Malope played a tremendous part in bringing Philani’s unique and inspiring story to the world. Malope, 29, recorded an interview with Philani called the ‘Pavement Bookworm’; the videos have gone viral since he put them up online last year.
The two-part interview features Philani speaking about the books he has read and why he likes them – the man is so full of infectious joy as he discusses his love of reading. His sense of passion and appreciation of books is extremely rare, especially for someone who leads a difficult life. Philani seems unfazed by his own living conditions, he only wants to tell the world how great it is to read.
On a typical day, Philani stops at various streets in Johannesburg with a pile of books; on request, he will review the books, the authors and even the publishers. “He has read all the books in his collection and is always seeking for more to read,” said Tebogo. “He then sells some of his books as a way to raise money for himself and some of his homeless friends.”
It is seriously amazing to watch him talk about books. His favorite author, he said, is John Grisham, because he “touches on social justice and I think that’s the one thing lacking in the world.” What I found most amusing was his review of the Jodi Picoult novel, My Sister’s Keeper.
“You know, when you got a car. But this car, it always gives you problems. Now, you go maybe buy a second-hand car just to take some parts from that and fix this one. This lady, she was suffering from leukemia. So her parents decided to give birth to another sister, so she’s gonna be like a donor,” he explained wisely.
Philani began to appreciate books when he managed to rescue himself from drug addiction by reading self-help books. “I hate drugs, because I know what drugs can do to you,” he said. “And drugs can turn you into a money-making machine. You can work four hours, you get four hundred, and go spend that four hundred in four minutes. So, four hours, four hundred, four minutes, all gone. Just imagine, all that effort.”
He points out that reading, on the other hand, can never hurt you. “I promise, reading is not harmful,” he said. “There’s no thing as harmful knowledge, this thing is only going to make you a better person. Reading is good for kids, for adults, for grannies, for people in old age homes. You can go to old age homes and see how many people read. That shows that you can never get enough of knowledge, because these people they are old, but they still read every day.”
Philani is especially concerned that kids these days do not read enough. For kids, he says, he doesn’t mind giving his books away for free. “You come here, you see kids, they are busy with their BBMs. All they care about is blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But you’re not acquiring any new knowledge, you’re not gaining anything. It’s just to kill time.”
According to Tebogo, Philani is a “great role model on the power of reading and can be an amazing ambassador for our young people.” The director also said that he’s appealing to anyone that can somehow contribute to Philani’s life.
Thanks to the video interview, motorists are actually stopping when they spot the pavement bookworm – to chat with him and probably even pick up a book or two. His finest moment was when he had a visit from Steven Boykey Sidley, the author of Entanglement and received a copy of his latest book.