He was on the verge of giving up and accepting the torrid circumstances of his life. He stood at the roadside, tension gripping him. It was an unfamiliar anxiety. Being on the streets had desensitized him to most kinds of fear.
It was the only way to survive. However, this feeling was weird. It was uncertainty. Philani had no idea how people would respond to his venture. All he knew was that this was his last hope to keep from starving.
South Africa is a beautiful country, famous for many amazing people and places. From being the nation of the great statesman Nelson Mandela to its sweeping savannahs and big game reserves, the country was well known for its diverse culture and beauty.
On the other hand, it was also well known for extreme poverty, high crime rates, and a high unemployment rate, especially among the youth. Despite then 24-year-old Philani Dladla being one such youth, his story is quite unique.
Philani Dladla had grown up in the South African Province of Kwa-Zulu Natal. Philani’s family, like so many others, were victims of the vast economic disparities that South Africa was infamous for.
Although Philani was a keen student and loved to read, his potential seemed doomed to atrophy as his family could not afford to send him to college. In fact, even as a young man, Philani faced a very harsh choice.
Like many young people, Philani faced an unpleasant cycle as a lack of opportunities to further his education made it virtually impossible to find a job anywhere. However, Philani was determined not to become a statistic.
Realizing early on that he would have to travel to increase his chances, Philani decided to relocate. The place he settled on was considered a “promised land”.
One of South Africa’s most famous regions, Johannesburg, was also considered the country’s economic hub. It was a place of many different faces.
Despite the city being one of the smallest in the country, it was the wealthiest and the place Philani was most likely to find a job. As he made the journey there, Philani had to do so with a heavy heart.
Johannesburg was roughly 360 miles away. This meant Philani would have to leave his family behind. Still, the city was known for its opportunities. In fact, the city was only founded after gold was discovered there in the 1800s.
It has since been known by the Zulu name “Egoli”, which means “city of gold”. However, like the many prospectors around the world who chased riches to their demise, Philani was about to find out why the saying goes, “all that glitters is not gold.”
In some ways, the city was indeed what people said. It was a cosmopolitan place with many incredible sights and wonders. Philani could not believe it when he found a job very early on and was able to send money home.
It wasn’t a very high-paying job and was pretty menial considering his true potential, but Philani was still excited to have work. Initially, Philani could send money home and accomplish all his goals. Things soon began to change, and his fortunes changed with them just as swiftly.
As Philani soon found out personally, Johannesburg was also known for being an expensive, fast-paced, and ultra-competitive city. The pressure to keep up while trying to pay his bills and send money home soon consumed him.
Philani fell in with the wrong crowd and was soon a victim of a crippling substance abuse problem that had terrifying consequences.
Philani’s life spun out of control in a very short space of time. Before he knew it, Philani was left destitute by his habit and all it cost him.
Johannesburg can be an unforgiving city, and Philani was now another statistic, just another unemployed and homeless youth in a sea of others like him. He was slowly beginning to lose hope.
Philani’s fate was unfortunate and challenging, but he decided to try one more time to turn it all around. Knowing his potential, he hated having to beg just to survive and knew there had to be another way.
Philani was also different from most of the other homeless people in one particular way. Desperate to make a change, Philani tried his hardest to use that side of himself to pull himself back up again.
While most of the other homeless persons accepted their lots and chose to beg and traffic lights, Philani used what little money he could scrape together to invest in an idea. Philani. There were so many homeless people out there, Philani knew he needed to stand out.
He then realized that instead of begging, he could provide a service people might willingly pay for. After much dedication and sacrifice, he finally had everything ready. The only question that remained was, would it work?
What set Philani apart from many other homeless people in Johannesburg was that he was educated and an avid reader. After saving as much as he could, he bought second-hand books to sell from traffic lights to motorists.
To make the idea stand out, Philani first read each book himself. Now he could also “market” each by providing free “book reviews” to his customers so they’d know if they would like the book or not. The idea worked a treat and wasn’t Philani’s only brilliant idea.
Philani’s book reviews impressed people so much that he soon became known as the “pavement bookworm”. Philani also used this book review system to price his books fairly based on a rating he gave each one.
If the rating wasn’t that good, the book was cheaper, sometimes less than a dollar each, and up to $5 or $6 for those he enjoyed reading. His customer’s responses were overwhelming.
In a country beset by crime and poverty, Philani Dladla had found a unique and wonderful way to avoid both. Not only was he able to pull himself out of poverty and homelessness, but the overwhelming support he received from his customers enabled him to help others too.
Philani went further, and “with some self-motivation and a lot of self-help books”, he got clean and sober and now helps others do the same. Remarkably, Philani was far from done.
With the money Philani was making, he bought extra bread and began feeding others. His greatest passion remained reading so Philani took his philanthropy further by lending books out to kids to create more interest in reading.
His only price; they had to tell him about the book first before being allowed to borrow the next one. From there, Philani’s incredible journey continued and today, he is a successful motivational speaker and still runs book and reading clubs around the city.