But his last-minute plan to hitchhike to Durban earlier this year has paid off, and he’s started turning his life around by selling books.
Mabunda, 32, originally from Johannesburg, spent 10 years in jail for murder and robbery. He was released in 2015.
“I found some work at a chemicals factory but it didn’t last. In February this year, I came down to Durban and found myself among the homeless people of the city, who recommended I go to the Denis Hurley Centre, where I could get a meal and shower.
“I was informed about the Booksellers of Mzansi project, where we sell newspapers and books,” he said.
The project has several homeless people selling second-hand books around the city.
“Sometimes I can make R300 a day and I use it to pay for a shelter, buy food, buy a cooldrink. This project has changed me. Books, and people’s love for books and reading, has helped me,” he said.
In recognition of the International Day of Literacy, celebrated today Mabunda encouraged people to start reading and to help others to read.
Organisations around Durban have also emphasised the need for reading and writing. International statistics show that globally, there are at least 750 million adults, including 102 million people aged between 15 and 24 years, who lack basic literacy skills.
Rehana Arumugam of the Reach for Words Reading Centre, based in Isipingo, south of Durban, said the need for literacy in South Africa was imperative for young people to reach their potential.
“With children, if there is no literacy, there’s no reading. It all starts with literacy, reading and getting good jobs. That’s essentially our goal and to prevent children from falling through the cracks,” said Arumugam.
She said some of the biggest challenges they faced was overcrowded learning areas, not enough volunteers and a lack of reading resources.
“Some children take longer to learn. We do our best at teaching literacy, such as working with the kids on a one-on-one basis. We allow books to be borrowed because a lot of schools don’t have time to administer the lending of books and a lot of people don’t have magazines or books in their homes,” she said.
Lizelle Langford, PR and fundraising manager for the READ Educational Trust, said it was important to have a basic understanding of language to have a better understanding of subjects which children are engaging with in school.
“It’s really important to have the structure at an early age because you’ll almost never be able to catch up with what you lost.
“That starts at the beginning and the beginning is not school. It’s all about children exploring things within a family context and it’s about nurturing and building their confidence by making them comfortable with books, words and language.
“Home language is so important in that it forms the structure to build the understanding of the world. Everything you do builds on the cognitive strengths of your child. We have to nurture them and give them answers, direction and find their own direction.”
Langford added that children find it difficult to learn as a lot of kids are second language speakers and don’t have access to home language books: “It stems from being comfortable in the language you’re reading in.
“We need a culture in society which focuses on reading. Learners will do what they see. If they don’t see adults reading, they won’t read. We need to be role models and have more reading material available.
“It should be a mandatory thing. And the library volunteers and teachers at these centres need to be readers and have that passion in them so it’s passed on to the kids.”