The Davids taking on the Goliath of homelessness

StreetLit book seller David Sithole reads a play next to his stand in Gugu Dlamini Park. Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency (ANA)

StreetLit book seller David Sithole reads a play next to his stand in Gugu Dlamini Park. Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jul 3, 2021


Lockdown is especially hard for those who live and work on the streets, and for the vendors at the Denis Hurley StreetLit project it’s tough.

Many of the venues at which they sell their wares are closed. But they’re still positive and out there selling an array of interesting books, which, with fewer options for entertainment, they hope more people will be reading.

The Independent on Saturday chatted to two Davids who have taken on the Goliath of homelessness … and are winning.

David Sithole, who trades opposite the satellite library in Gugu Dlamini Park in the CBD, loves plays. On his table, along with the bestsellers, are titles like Master Harold and the Boys, The Crucible, Boesman and Lena and a number of Shakespeare titles. There’s a selection by acclaimed actor and playwright John Kani.

“I can change the voices in my head when I’m reading them,” he says.

He laughs when asked if he had ever done any acting.

“My space was on the streets. But even then I would always carry something in my bag to read,” he says.

“I love books and I made a friendship with the people at Denis Hurley and they advised me to come and sell books.”

Today the 44-year-old entrepreneur is no longer on the streets, and has rented accommodation he can call home.

“The project has changed my mind and my life. I now own my own library and can see the love of books in others. I am able to bring cash to my pocket and attract everything I need,” he says.

Sithole chooses his books from the library in the St John basement and stores them in the satellite library. He says self-help and business books are really popular and he reads at least two books a week himself.

“I am here every day because I respect my customers. I have introduced myself to them, so when they need me, I am here for them,” he says. “This is my business.”

He was full of praise for the courses run by the Denis Hurley centre to assist vendors, from business, budgeting and selling skills to fundamental literacy courses, to dealing with addictions and mental health issues.

Streetlit bookseller David van der Westhuizen at the KZNSA Gallery in Glenwood reads three or four books a week. Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency(ANA)

David van der Westhuizen runs a stand outside the KZNSA Gallery and got through his time on the streets through reading.

“I’m a big lover of books,” he says.

The 42-year-old came to Durban in 2014 to work in the construction industry but the work dried up.

“I ended up on the street, drinking a bit much and doing funny things,” he says.

He came onto the project because initially he would help carry the books donated into the St John building, his effort earning him a few books which he would read and then sell. He joined the project just before Christmas. For five months he was able to afford to stay in a shelter and now has a flat in Glenwood he can call his own.

He tells how his family are now speaking to him again.

“My mother and sister were fighting with me, my girlfriend left me. Now we're talking.

“And I don’t owe people any money. Now people owe me money,” he says as he buys his lunch from another street vendor selling boiled eggs with salt in little sachets of newspaper.

“I have learnt a lot, and learnt to be humble. I can get a better life. If it weren’t for Denis Hurley I don’t know where I would have been,” he says. “I am doing something I love and it has changed me into a better person. But you have to do it yourself. I decided I didn’t want this life on the streets anymore. I’m tired of it.”

The man who says he reads three to four books a week ‒ he’s busy reading Lee Child’s latest Reacher novel ‒ then apologises for his long scraggly beard.

“I lost a bet,” he says. “It was the Chiefs Pirates derby, and I’m a Pirates fan, but Chiefs won.”

StreetLit is an award-winning entrepreneurship project and is an initiative of the Denis Hurley Centre, supported by the SAB Foundation. It allows a team of trained and rehabilitated homeless or formerly homeless people to earn a modest income from selling second-hand, donated books.

The books are donated and stored, library style, at St John. The vendors buy the books from the project at R2 a book and then sell them to the public. They decide what they can sell them for and keep 100% of the profits.

The StreetLit project is looking for viable, safe and legal places where vendors can sell their books. So if you have busy shop, office or business and would like to host a vendor, please let them know. They are also looking for quality children’s books. Contact them at [email protected].