Author, playwright, and social entrepreneur sounds right when grouped together as titles. Add ‘soldier’ to this list of titles and it reads a bit oddly. But all these titles belong to one man, Ntokozo ‘Bookologist’ Ndlovu.
Born in a rural village called Inzinga, near Impendle in KZN, the 33-year-old SANDF corporal is the author of numerous plays and two published books, Matsimane and His People and Izethuso Neziluleko Zabazali Bami – a yet to be published memoir about his formative years in the army.
Ntokozo is quick to point to a series of adversarial events when he tells his life story.
“I remember the trauma of witnessing the ANC/IFP civil war in our village when I was young. But we were the lucky ones because my parents managed to move us to Durban.”
Moving to a new area at a young age proved challenging for Ntokozo.
“I found the change extremely difficult. School was the hardest because it was my first time being in a Model C school.”
Ntokozo was a gifted soccer player growing up, with dreams of making it big in the sport. But his dreams of soccer stardom had to take a backseat after another traumatic event.
“My father passed away when I was in Grade 10 and I had to start helping my mother in every way. On top of that, my matric results were disappointing. I wanted to be a journalist but my English marks were low and I wasn’t accepted at Durban University of Technology.”
Life was not going as planned for Ntokozo, but he kept a positive outlook. Luck and fate played important roles in his journey when a neighbor handed him SANDF application forms.
“I applied and received the call up letter to attend basic military training in Kimberley. I didn’t know anything about the army when I applied, but the SANDF saved my life. The SANDF has given me the opportunity to learn from different cultures by traveling to different parts of the world.”
Ntokozo quickly found a mentor when he arrived at the SANDF.
“I’ll be forever grateful to Mr Given Shingange, a former SANDF Officer I met in 2007. He introduced me to a lot of books. He taught me about business, networking and public speaking. He helped me open my first email account! Today he is a board member in my organization, and still my mentor. The only difference now is that I have more books than he has,” says Ntokozo.
With the stability brought by life in the army, Ntokozo’s passion for literature was reignited.
“My mother was an IsiZulu language teacher in her day. She made us read izinganekwane (folktales) aloud when we were kids, and I found the world of words fascinating. In the army I started to read again. In 2009, after reading the thought-provoking ‘Capitalist Nigger’ by Chika Onyeani, I decided to start my organization called The Web Foundation.”
It is under The Web Foundation that Ntokozo started the ‘Siyafunda Donate a Book’ programme in 2015. ‘Siyafunda Donate a Book’ has captured the imagination, gaining a large following on social media.
“We have a devastating reading crisis in South African schools, with rural areas showing the worst results,” says Ntokozo. “Eight in ten children cannot read to understand. This is a narrative we aim to change through the ‘Siyafunda Donate a Book’ programme. We have established dual school libraries, mini libraries, corner libraries, and reading clubs in 39 rural schools nationally since ‘Siyafunda Donate a Book’ started in 2015.”
Ntokozo is crystal clear about the legacy he wants to leave behind.
“I want to create a world class African Web Leadership Institution that will transform public rural schools into self-reliant lifelong learning institutions. We need to teach children in a different way,” says Ntokozo.
“Have a dream, see it, believe in it and live it every day. Be yourself and remember that thoughts become deeds,” is Ntokozo’s advice to young people.
For further details on The Web Foundation email: info@the web.org.za 079 080 6112/ 076 457 9193