Philani Dladla, author of ‘The Pavement Bookworm’, was given his first book at the age of 11, for his birthday. The gift, his first-ever birthday present, came from Joseph Castyline – an elderly man whom his mother worked for as a caregiver in his home-town of Port Shepstone, KwaZulu-Natal.

Joseph Castyline gave him that book with the promise that if he was able to read it, and tell the story, there was going to be more books coming. Mr. Castyline sadly passed away a year after, but true to his word, he left Philani his entire book collection. The collection of nearly 500 books included classical works by authors such as Emily Bronte, Charles Dickens, Friedrich Nietzsche as well as renowned titles by Zakes Mda and Bantu Steve Biko.

Instead of things getting better from this point, it spiralled out of control. In spite of his very supportive mother’s attempts to build a healthier environment for her boy, Philani started moving around with the wrong friends and was subsequently expelled from high school. After a number of suicide attempts, his mother decided a change of scenery might do him good. She sent him to Johannesburg in 2008, to stay with a family friend and find a job.

Things started off well enough. He found a job and was able to afford a place to stay. Unfortunately, new threats and temptations lurked and Philani soon used Nyaope and crack cocaine to get through a day. What started as a recreational activity soon became an addiction.  

In 2011, he found himself on the streets.  He had lost his job and failed to make rent payments. With nothing but a few clothing items and his valuable bag of books, he found shelter amongst fellow homeless people under the Nelson Mandela Bridge in Braamfontein.

He soon realised that he would have to generate some form of income to maintain his drug habit. His charismatic character and avid reviews of books in his collection soon made him a familiar face on Empire Road, opposite the entrance of Wits University. People in the area, especially students at Wits, started donating books, including their old textbooks, for him to sell.  

He gained public attention in 2013, when documentary filmmaker Tebogo Malope, interviewed him about his roadside bookstall and posted the video online, where it went viral. And so, The Pavement Bookworm, was born.

Since then, Philani has recorded TEDxTalks in Johannesburg, published his  autobiography, ‘The Pavement Bookworm’ in 2015, opened several book clubs for children, started various reading initiatives in communities and also became a sought after motivational speaker.

Unfortunately, the misappropriation and mismanagement of funds, questionable judgment in publishing advice received and abuse of a selfless soul, has once again placed Philani in a place of adversity. He no longer frequents the familiar streets of Johannesburg, where this inspirational human being embraced humanity, and placed hope in the eyes of expectant children. Philani faced financial crisis and had to move home to Port Shepstone, where he continues to spread goodness to the neighbourhood children in his mother’s back yard.

The Pavement Bookworm brings Hope to the Hopeless

Philani has an insatiable desire for knowledge and has used his love for books to overcome drug addiction and deal with bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety.  Through his motivational speaking, he can share the power of reading and provide testimonials of how it helped him overcome adversity.

He aims to reinstate his literacy projects and Book Clubs for underprivileged children and expand these projects to distribute books to underprivileged children all around South Africa.

Philani knows the power books have to change our young society and wants to share this gift with as many underprivileged children in our country as possible.

His story has the power to motivate and inspire. He needs your help to bring Hope to the Hopeless.

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