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Sat Jul 04 13:49:15 SAST 2015

'An emperor of books'

GRAEME HOSKEN | 20 December, 2013 00:07
A NOVEL IDEA: Philane Dladla on his throne in Empire Road, Braamfontein, Johannesburg. He reviews every book he reads and uses the reviews to entice passing motorists into buying books from him
Image by: DANIEL BORN

Surrounded by books, Philane Dladla, smiled as he sat on the throne of his "empire".

"This is my empire, my kingdom," he said, as motorists hooted loudly to draw his attention.

Dladla kingdom is at a U-turn sign at an intersection in Empire Road opposite Wits University, in Johannesburg.

His life's mission: reading and dispensing knowledge by selling books.

"Books are my wealth, my gift," he said while handing a motorist a book by US author Jody Picoult.

"Picoult is good but sometimes her writing loses a bit of traction," he said.

"Some of those who drive past look down on me, like I do not exist, but others see me for what I am - a dispenser of knowledge and happiness."

Dladla has loved reading since he got his first book at the age of 11.

Few books escape his eyes - from self-help manuals and romances to autobiographies and rags-to-riches novels.

A man that his mother, a healthcare worker, looked after left behind 500 books when he died and Dladla has read - and written reviews on - all of them.

He uses the reviews to entice new customers.

"I have regular customers who buy books from me once a week."

Dladla earns between R10 and R100 a book depending on the author and the value he attaches to the author, and uses the money to buy food for his friends who live with him on the street.

"I love my customers. I love it that I feed their knowledge.

"Some like religious books, others self-help, some detective novels."

Dladla's favourite authors are Joseph Prince, John Grisham and Lee Child.

"Their writing is exciting."

Sometimes book clubs and second-hand book shops donate books to him.

"Some of my clients give books back to me to resell once they are finished with them.

"Students who finish at Wits give me their books, which I sell to the next year's students."

One regular customer, film director Tebogo Malope, said he bought Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated and Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist after reading Dladla's reviews.

"Philane's knowledge is incredible. His reviews interrogate. They make you want to read. He has become my reading partner."

Downhill mountain bike racer and author Neil Fourie is pleased that Dladla reviewed his autobiography.

"It was tough to write. I was chuffed when Philane reviewed it."

But Dladla believes Fourie could improve his writing style.

"He could write with more excitement. His autobiography is not too bad, though."

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