When Philani Dladla was 12 his mother’s employer gave him Frederik van Zyl Slabbert’s The Last White Parliament. A hefty book for any 12-year-old – and particularly weighty if the 12-year-old doesn’t speak English. But Dladla wanted to impress his mother’s boss, so he worked his way through Van Zyl Slabbert’s book.
When he was finished he was given more books, which he devoured. Dladla soon became hooked on words. Unfortunately, books were not going to be his only addiction. A few years later Dladla experimented with drugs, and started using nyaope – a deadly and highly addictive street drug. He soon found himself on the streets, living under the Nelson Mandela Bridge in Johannesburg.
It was the bag of books he had received from his mother’s boss, and which he had managed to keep, that helped Dladla turn his life around. He started reviewing the books and sharing his reviews with motorists driving on Empire Road. It was a great marketing strategy and he sold the books he reviewed to the motorists. Someone made a video about him and the video exploded on social media.
In today’s episode of AmaBookaBooka, Dladla reads an extract from The Pavement Bookworm about his first day on the streets and reviews his own book. He talks about living rough under the Nelson Mandela Bridge, how he eventually managed to kick his nyaope habit, and also talks about the book that changed his life. Dladla is committed to helping the homeless and believes reading is a way out of poverty. He formed a Book Reader’s Club for poor children in Johannesburg, helping to spread the message that books can change the world. These days, Dladla, who is busy with a World Book campaign, continues to inspire people about the magic of words.
This episode of AmaBookaBooka also features the Sound Effects Rorschach Test, the winning story from All About Writing’s monthly short story challenge and the Book Lounge’s Mervyn Sloman recommends a book he thinks Western Cape Premier Helen Zille should read in light of her colonialism mistweet – and advises her to spend more time reading and less time tweeting. DM
AmaBookaBooka is a novel podcast about books and the people who write them. It is produced by Jonathan Ancer and Dan Dewes for the Daily Maverick and in partnership with the Book Lounge. You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes (it’s free).
In other news...
The South African economy is choking harder than the Proteas. Although to be choking you have to actually be eating and the Proteas seem to be on some sort of juice cleanse-like fast…*
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*Proteas, you know we love you. We’d just love you more if you won occasionally...
Ring of Fire as performed by Johnny Cash was actually written by June Carter.