Slice of life: ‘I can read nine or 10 books a week’

I’m selling books now one year before the lockdown started.

After I lost my job, I ended up on the street. I didn’t have anybody I knew here. I didn’t have any money.

I stayed on the street for about six months. Then I started selling books.

I was sitting the one day reading, and somebody saw me and said they wanted books. I’m a big reader. I love reading. I had a lot of books, so I started selling them.

I started selling by the Workshop [Shopping Centre] at the back. 

When the lockdown came I had to go into the tents. I stayed in the one at People’s Park by Moses Mabhida [Stadium].

When I came out I started the programme with the Denis Hurley Centre. They saw me at The Workshop and asked me to join the Street Lit programme. They supply us with stock that gets donated to them and they help us by informing the public about us. 

I’ve got my own bachelor flat that I rent now, just from books. At least I can make a living. I don’t live on the street. I eat every day.

The lockdown has been a very bad thing, but in some ways it has helped me. People stay at home and read books more.

This time of the month is usually quiet, but on a good day I sell 50 or 60 books. Some days none. I have a nice place to work here, with artistic people who love to read. When it’s raining I take my books inside the gallery restaurant.

I love what I do. Since I was very young I’ve been a reader. Since then I couldn’t leave it. I read four or five novels a week when it’s busy. When it’s quiet and I’m sitting here I can read nine or 10 books a week.

The business has grown. I have this place and I have somebody working for me at The Workshop. I hope that soon I can open another at the [Berea] Bowling Club so I can help another person who doesn’t have work to go and sell books. — David van der Westhuizen, a street bookseller based at the KwaZulu-Natal Society of the Arts Gallery in Durban, as told to Paddy Harper

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Paddy Harper
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