Homeless man’s new chapter selling books is a hit
Thanks to 'an idea and a pile of books', he sells books at five shopping malls, employs staff and makes a daily profit
Richard Nzima is an unusual businessman.
While he makes a profit, employs two people and intends to hire more, the Durban man is homeless.
Every night he settles in at a homeless shelter in the city where he recounts his day as a bookseller.
Nzima is a product of the Bookseller of Mzansi, a project that uses donated books to empower Durban’s homeless.
The founders of the Durban Book Fair, businessman Anivesh Singh and local historian and writer Kiru Naidoo, took the idea to the Dennis Hurley Centre early in 2018 to “give people an avenue to earn a meaningful income and at the same time encourage a reading culture in Durban”.
In September 2018, Nzima was not just homeless, he was hopeless. Living on the streets, with no constant income, he decided to sign up to Bookseller of Mzansi.
He understood that he would have to sell donated books to earn a living. But he never expected to enter a “drastic” new chapter in his life.
“I started to sell books on the street but it was very slow. I then contacted a shopping centre and managed to get a table there,” he told Times Select.
Soon he was selling books at five shopping centres.
“I needed to employ staff and the programme encourages us to teach others so they can go out and be successful,” Nzima said.
He employed two people and paid them R250 a day.
“They have now moved on to their own projects and now I am looking for new people to hire,” Nzima said.
Being his own boss has been “overwhelming”.
“I sometimes cannot believe it. I want to help others realise that they too can make something out of their lives if they take a chance. It doesn’t mean if there are no jobs, that there is nothing that one can do. Projects like these enable us to empower ourselves.”
Nzima added that he was well aware that if he didn’t sell any books, he would be back on the street.
“It allows me to have shelter. It allows me to earn money. I urge people to continue donating books and supporting this project.”
Singh is impressed that the project has had “such great ripple effects”.
“The booksellers are no longer homeless. They can now afford to pay for shelter and for their basic needs. It’s wonderful to interact with them.”
Singh hoped to grow the project by helping at least 50 people to find permanent locations for them to sell their books.
“Durban is a Unesco city of literature. This project helps people earn a dignified living and promotes a culture of learning at the same time,” he said.
Naidoo said the project was a “pay it forward venture”.
“We had an idea and pile of books. A couple of guys with good attitude were prepared to slog to earn a dignified living,” he said.
“This is not a charity but rather micro-businesses for people with the will to work. We hope that cities will give booksellers the same privileges as newspaper vendors who can operate anywhere,” he said.