South African books that deal with homelessness

Some necessary reading


As we see more and more young black writers being published, we also see interesting, complex stories about being young, poor and black in SA which for some youth involves homelessness. Here is a list of some must read local books that deal with homelessness:

Thirteen Cents by Sello K Duiker (Kwela Books) 

Set in post apartheid South Africa, in particular Cape Town, Sello Duiker’s award winning debut novel tells the story of street child Azure. Azure is an orphan and finds himself having to navigate a city with major systemic issues such as sexual violence, gangsterism, substance abuse, and corruption



The Pavement Bookworm by Philani Dlala (Blackbird Books)

The Pavement Bookworm is the story of Philani Dladla who is left destitute and homeless while also dealing with substance abuse and how a love of books not only saves him but gets him internet fame and ultimately leads to the publication of his book. It’s tough read about the harsh realities of living on the streets.



To quote myself by Khaya Dlanga (Picador) 

Born in impoverished conditions in the former Transkei in the Eastern Cape, (now author and sought after marketer) Khaya Dlanga finds himself in Cape Town with a tough decision to make after the money dries up at home. As he wrote in one column: “I became homeless because I didn’t have a place to stay. I had to choose between having food and having a place to stay or having food but no place to stay. The choice I made was to have food but no place to stay.” Khaya’s story is like so many young black South African who leave home to study in other parts of SA and find themselves homeless and some having to sleep under desks and other places on campus.

Exit! A true story by Grizelda Grootboom (Blackbird books) 

Exit is story of how Grizelda is rendered homeless by apartheid forced removals at the age of 8, is gang raped at the age of 9 after living on Cape Town’s streets as street child and eventually runs away at 18 to Johanessburg in the hopes of a better life where she is trafficked when she arrived in Yeoville. What follows is a brutal cycle of living from hand to mouth, being pimped, homelessness and drug use until her exit in her mid 20s.



Dog eat dog by Niq Mhlongo (Kwela Books) 

Although a work of fiction, the story of Wits student Dingz in the book is inspired by the real life story of author Niq Mhlongo who has spoken about his own experiences of poverty and inequality as a UCT student, where as a homeless student he often had to find open university buildings in which to sleep. Dingz, like so many poor black students, is constantly at risk of losing his place at the university, and constantly struggling for money.




Holding my breath by Ace Moloi (Jacana Media) 

Written as a letter to his deceased mother, who dies when he is 13, Ace Moloi’s book touches on many systemic issues in South Africa such as child headed households, poverty and inequality and why #FeesMustFall happened and was inevitable. Ace finds himself homeless following his mother’s death and highlights the vulnerability of poor children who can sometimes end up homeless and with nowhere to go.


Room 207 by Kgebetli Moele (Kwela Books) 

Room 207 tells the story of 6 young men who all live in room 207- a small flat in a run down building in Hillbrow in downtown Jhb that stands between them and homelessness. The young men share a common story of having been financially excluded at the Wits University and, like many, had to put their tertiary education plans and dreams on hold because of being too poor for public education. For ten years Matome, Molamo, Zulu-boy, D’nice, Modishi and a 6th nameless man eek out a living from Room 207 in the harsh and often violent environment of downtown Jozi.