From beggar to bookseller: He's started a new chapter in his life
A new project in Durban aims to help the homeless restart their lives and, at the same time, get SA reading
Browsing through the selection of books on Eric Ngema's table outside a Durban church, bibliophiles may find it difficult to believe that he is homeless.
His obvious love for reading and easy chatter about books holds the attention of the small crowd, who may not know that less than a month ago Ngema went from being a beggar to a bookseller.
Ngema is the first Bookseller of Mzansi – a project that uses books to empower Durban’s homeless.
Durban businessman Anivesh Singh and local historian and writer Kiru Naidoo took the idea to the Dennis Hurley Centre earlier this year to “give people an avenue to earn a meaningful income and at the same time encourage a reading culture in Durban”.
On his first day selling donated books outside the St Anne's Church in Overport, Durban, Ngema made about R350, enough to cover his shelter fees for the week.
Dennis Hurley Centre project manager Stuart Talbot told Times Select that Ngema was the first to respond when, at a life skills class for homeless people, he asked which of them enjoyed reading.
“The second person chosen for this project is also somebody who likes reading. That’s the obvious choice. They also had to go through our life skills programme and our entrepreneurial education to be a bookseller,” he said.
The centre hopes to enlist local churches and get them involved. Specifically, they want the churches to allow booksellers to set up tables on their premises.
They are also urging the public to donate their books.“We aim to reach at least 30 churches around the city. It would be too difficult for the booksellers to sell the books on the pavements in the city,” Talbot said.
He also hopes that residents will offer their pavements or driveways to the booksellers at weekends, while Singh would like to see a Bookseller of Mzansi in every suburb.“It’s about creating a dignified living for people, but also about promoting reading. There will always be stock for them to sell. We will ensure that there is because we know that this project is creating a job but also getting people to buy books and read,” Singh said.
Naidoo said there is a magic about reading that must infect South Africans.
“This project is empowering and dignifying. There is an evangelical zeal about getting books onto every street corner and into every child’s hands. One can never be satisfied with one book or one Simba chip,” he said.