The “Power of the Book” and Altruism by Michelle Clarke

Thank you to the contributor Helen Moffett to Ireland Big Issue (July/August 2016) for introducing me to a “Power of the Book” soul mate based in Johannesburg, South Africa, Philani Dladla.  To be honest, I don’t always buy the Big Issue magazine but when I take the time to find the e3; I am never disappointed.

The Power of the Book is deeply rooted in my psyche and the words “Knowledge is no Load” formed very much of our family folklore when I was a child and now.  My grandfather, Michael Comyn KC was born in 1871 and at the age of 7, he witnessed his family being evicted from their home and lands in Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare by the Landlord, Lord Clanrickarde.  He, not unlike Philano Dladla, had a vision that brought him beyond being an evicted tenant farmers son.  Michael Comyn walked the roads in search of education and found it in Ruan, Co. Clare (Mr Brady); he joined Customs and Excise; he studied Law in Preston University, he received the Victoria Prize, he became a King’s Counsel in 1914, the same year he traveled to Kansas in the US with Arthur Griffith, he was legal advisor to Eamon De Valera, he was appointed a senator in 1928; he became a Judge.  Michael Comyn had a keen interest in geology and he and Ben Briscoe opened gold mines in Wicklow and in his later years Michael Comyn opened mines for phosphate in Doolin, Noughaval, Kilfenora, and its environs in Co. Clare where he employed hundreds of men at a time that Ireland had become an independent Republic.

Philani Dladla – Johannesburg, South Africa – yes another century, another continent, an altered narrative but the significance of life changing events show that it is possible to take ugly obstacles like poverty, no education, addiction, substance abuse, mental illness, homelessness and move forward with vision but most importantly with the will to help your fellow human beings.  Altruism is a powerful word.  Dladla, what a pleasure to read your story in Ireland’s Big Issue.

Philani moved  from rural Port Shepstone in 2008 to Johannesburg, in South Africa.  He left home with a bag of clothes and 15 books. Initially he gained employment but he did not succeed at the job and became homeless.  He located a space under Nelson Mandela bridge.  Street life as the homeless and impoverished well know, is very cold and the reality is you become identifiable as the underclass.  No social security in South Africa meant a sub-culture industry prevailed even if it included begging, cleaning car windows, polishing shoes or selling whatever could be sold and then there is what is defined criminal and what is necessary to survive.

Philani Dladla’s book the The Pavement Bookworm;  Helen Moffett reports in Ireland’s Big Issue

“It’s hard to square his frank account – told in his memoir The Pavement Bookworm of thuggery and brutality, blowing money on drugs before food, deadly turf wars, rape, extortion and even a stint in a psychiatric ward, with his engaging mix of shyness and warmth”. 

Philani started gathering books, then he realised that workers often had no time to read the books so he started doing reviews of books.    Philani formed a business model that said if you don’t return the book in one week you pay extra.  He needed this money to buy books and then sell them.   Philani Dladla started selling second books in Empire Road in Braamfontein (a central suburb of Johannesburg).  This “vagrant bibliophile” would lecture on Socrates to passing students; to people just walking by.  Professors at Wits Univeristy, donated lots of books …  for Philani to read, review and sell.  Philani gave the kids books for free while selling the book to the parent.

Innovation, progress, altruism and motivation led him out of homelessness and into an apartment with no running water; no electricity but this became his home and his office.  The accommodation consolidated his ambition “to do good with the money”.  Philani, you give hope to others because you saw beyond; you saw opportunity in the sale of books and giving reviews and your choice as he said was to not be to be like those who choose to sell ‘pity’; he wanted to give value to people for the money they spent.  Tebogo Malope, fascinated by Philani, a homeless man on the side of the road filmed his brief clip on You-Tube which went viral leading  on media, radio, twitter and a TEDx talk from by Philani at TEDx Johannesburg.

Philani soon had 50 kids in a Club – he knows what he wants for these children; to help them to avoid the life of the street, drugs, prostitution.  These children are now leapfrogged forward as they are taught computer skills and listen to Philani’s stories.  Philani’s core character knew that if his trade in books was successful, he would be able to help poor children.  Philani correctly says books are very good for these kids who most likely will be our  future leaders.

Having lived in Zimbabwe in the 1990’s I know how valuable a place in school is in South Africa, especially when your mother would have been working to support her family without the support of a father.  I am so glad your mother’s “Boss” had the wisdom and foresight to give you the book on Politics and make a bequest of his books to you because that Book in particular introduced you to the Power of the Book and gave you the challenge to be your own physician and pave your way out of homelessness, addiction, poverty and its inherent crimes to survive.  We now know, if we read the Big Issue South Africa the Ireland Big Issue or listen to TEDxJohannesburg with the power of the internet we can tap through to a young 26 year old with a wealth of experience.  Your Mother’s motto as shared is a vital crucible to living life and she is right “Giving is a gift to the Giver”.

“From living the hardscrabble life, Dladla has gone to being an ardent fundraiser for the growing number (about 250 at present) of children who join him after school to read in Johannesburg’s Joubert Park.  Here they do homework, eat whatever simple meal he’s been able to source from donors or his own funds’ and he tells stories to these kids so often surrounded by extreme poverty ”


Today Philani Dladla has a website, you can buy books online.  His location is  Greenside, Johannesburg where he meets people at the Doppio Zero, have a cup of coffee, and deliver their book orders.  People donate books; but he now has money to buy books too because he has earned enough finances to buy books to sell.  The people who created his website store his books.  What Philani wants is what should be core to all human beings is that “kids” do not getting into the illegal drug/substance culture that further submerges them into criminal activities.  His wish is that they get the opportunity to have a proper education and go to university and live a good life.  In Philani’s words:

“Beggars can take money each day and make no changes in their lifestyle…he wants his Children to ‘dream the impossible’ he goes on to say that Henry Ford was broke at the age of 40 and became one of the most well known and wealthy men in the world”.

…..As he gets out of the car, he dives into his hefty rucksack and hands me a book.  “One last thing for you, here.  We will be in touch.”  He jumps out, and the book becomes our contract”

In my life, the Power of the Book led me to be a bibliophile (see links below).  A kind stranger identified that I too was struggling with my life.  I had traumatic brain injury from a riding accident in Zimbabwe, complicated by bipolar et al.  Step by step KT brought me back to health and it took years.  Part of the recovery plan was reading.  Many books in my home tell of the daily struggle.  Yes, so many notes to ground me to the fact that I have read the book and that I will forget because of the brain damage but the books are all around me as part of my identity.  Philani, at the age of 12 your mother worked for a man called Joseph who gave you a book, like KT gave me books, magazines and access to the virtual community of the internet.

The book to Philani was his first present ever.  Joseph expected you to read the book and to synopsise it.  Your language was Zulu.  You read the book and re-read it because then you would receive another book.  That man when he died donated all his books to you, about 500, including the first editions of Jane Austen and Emily Bronte who are kept for you by your mother.  My friend gave me the books; daily newspapers; nature and business related magazines and he encouraged me to read and write on a citizen journalism site.  I had my pre-accident at age 32 memory intact (particularly my childhood) but groundhog day means my recent past ie yesterday is somewhere in a mist or now in the virtual Cloud, not accessible to me.  Citizen journalism (and now WordPress and Twitter) and writing records my daily life; alongside endless notebooks and I share with you that books and their character is an essential part of daily living and should be revered.

Sadly however in Ireland we seem to have too many books deemed of no value.  Charity shop after charity shop receive so many books that you can buy a hardback for 1 euro or 50 cents or sometimes 10 for 5 euro.  What can we do to share this surplus in our consumer driven Amazon Google et al mentality that say’s forget your carbon footprint and just buy new and discard.  From piggy back to leap frog let’s learn from each other.


Iceland, our neighbour, so often forgotten about have a lovely custom at Christmas.  It is the “The Christmas Book Flood” Icelandic authors of all genres read from and promote their latest work, a literary festival.  Social media interaction has introduced other countries to the Icelandic tradition of exchanging books on Christmas Eve; when the people remain at home reading books gifted to them.  It would be a good start this December 2016, for people in Ireland to do something similar to Iceland.  Yes for those who can afford to buy books from bookshops, please continue to do so but for other people and small children why not visit your local charity shops or flea markets and buy a book choosing carefully a book that would suit a friend and apply a form of bibliotherapy. The Icelandic tradition has a history based on scarcities.  During World War II restrictions on imports to Iceland were harsh.  Iceland’s currency made it more difficult (a little bit like Brexit at present) to buy foreign productions.  Not unlike Africa, and when I lived in Zimbabwe in the 1990’s, Iceland’s publishing industry lacked the resources to publish and distribute books all year round, making the Book Flood a practical marketing strategy as well as a treasured tradition.

Worth a thought

More than anywhere else in the world… One in 10 Icelanders will publish [a book].”

One bookstore manager told NPR, “The book in Iceland is such an enormous gift, you give a physical book. You don’t give e-books here.”

The book industry is driven by the majority of people buying several books each year, rather than the North American pattern of a few people buying lots of books.

Article in response to reading about Philani Daladla, (The Pavement Bookworm) in Ireland’s Big Issue written by Helen Moffett and to the woman who sits daily on the pavement outside Boots, near Donnybrook,  Dublin 4.

Thank you.
Michelle Clarke
Ireland’s Big Issue July 20th to August 17th
Issue 207 Vol 14
‘A Hand Up, Not a Hand Out’ world is a circle without a beginning and nobody knows where that circle ends……’

The use of books for therapeutic purposes is known as ‘bibliotherapy‘. Self-help books have been used in this way for many years and are now being recommended as a means of providing psychological therapy for people experiencing emotional and psychological difficulties.

Dementia – Understand together. Adult Issues. Addiction · Alcohol · Anger · Anxiety: Health Anxiety, Panic, Phobias, Social Anxiety

The effectiveness of bibliotherapy has been well established in clinical trials. Bibliotherapy has been recommended by the National Institute for Health and ……

 Bibliotherapy counselling Bibliotherapy The use of books for therapeutic purposes is known as ‘bibliotherapy‘ and is the term used to cover the use of self-help …

How does the scheme work? Recommended books • Useful websites. Bibliotherapy: The power of words. February 2009. New Bibliotherapy scheme ……id…tip…

About michelleclarke2015

Life event that changes all: Horse riding accident in Zimbabwe in 1993, a fractured skull et al including bipolar anxiety, chronic fatigue …. co-morbidities (Nietzche 'He who has the reason why can deal with any how' details my health history from 1993 to date). 17th 2017 August operation for breast cancer (no indications just an appointment came from BreastCheck through the Post). Trinity College Dublin Business Economics and Social Studies (but no degree) 1997-2003; UCD 1997/1998 night classes) essays, projects, writings. Trinity Horizon Programme 1997/98 (Centre for Women Studies Trinity College Dublin/St. Patrick's Foundation (Professor McKeon) EU Horizon funded: research study of 15 women (I was one of this group and it became the cornerstone of my journey to now 2017) over 9 mth period diagnosed with depression and their reintegration into society, with special emphasis on work, arts, further education; Notes from time at Trinity Horizon Project 1997/98; Articles written for 2003/2004; St Patricks Foundation monthly lecture notes for a specific period in time; Selection of Poetry including poems written by people I know; Quotations 1998-2017; other writings mainly with theme of social justice under the heading Citizen Journalism Ireland. Letters written to friends about life in Zimbabwe; Family history including Michael Comyn KC, my grandfather, my grandmother's family, the O'Donnellan ffrench Blake-Forsters; Moral wrong: An acrimonious divorce but the real injustice was the Catholic Church granting an annulment – you can read it and make your own judgment, I have mine. Topics I have written about include annual Brain Awareness week, Mashonaland Irish Associataion in Zimbabwe, Suicide (a life sentence to those left behind); Nostalgia: Tara Hill, Co. Meath.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The “Power of the Book” and Altruism by Michelle Clarke

  1. Pingback: The “Power of the Book” and Altruism by Michelle Clarke | canisgallicus

  2. Fascinating article. Thanks for sharing.


  3. Pingback: The “Power of the Book” and Altruism by Michelle Clarke | canisgallicus

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s