South African businessman Richard Maponya died aged 99 today, 6 January 2020, after a short illness, his family has announced.
In a brief statement, family spokesman Mandla Sibeko said funeral arrangements would be announced in due course and asked for privacy.
Popularly known as the father of black retail in South Africa, Maponya defied the restrictions of decades-long white apartheid rule to build a business empire, culminating in the opening of the Maponya mall in the sprawling Soweto township in 2007 which boasts more than 200 stores and a cinema complex.
Maponya was an entrepreneur and property developer who is best known for having built a highly successful business empire despite the restrictions of apartheid.
From the 1950s when he started his first business, he was determined to see Soweto develop economically.
One sign of his dream’s being realised has been the opening of the huge shopping precinct called Maponya Mall at the end of 2007.
It is said to have changed the face of Soweto.
Maponya was a pioneering and gigantic figure in South African commerce and trade.
Born in humble circumstances in the old Northern Transvaal, now Limpopo Province in 1926, Richard John Pelwana Maponya used his origins to provide himself with a moral compass and to guide him in bringing rewards not only to his family but to communities at large.
He trained as a teacher, but soon realised that his ability lay in trade. At a time when black businesses were strictly monitored and enterprise was limited, he convinced the apartheid officials to grant him a trading licence to sell foodstuffs, and so he was, with his late wife, able to open Maponya’s Dairy Products in Soweto.
Although there was no electricity or refrigeration at first, Dr Maponya’s dairy was able to deliver fresh milk each day by using delivery men on bicycles.
Eventually this business would employ more than 100 people.
While working for a white-owned clothing company, he had built up the capital for this venture by working in his spare time selling clothing on a ‘pay-as-you-wear’ basis. He was assisted in his early business endeavours by the legal firm of Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela.
In the 1970s Dr Maponya was able to expand his foodstuffs business by setting up butchery, two grocery stores and a restaurant. These then were expanded to include a funeral parlour, a filling station and car dealership called Mountain Motors. Currently he is the Chairman of the Maponya Group.
Able so see opportunity in adversity, when General Motors disinvested from South Africa in 1987, he turned elsewhere to open supermarkets and bottle-stores, and to run a bus transport service. Again, when Coca Cola pulled out of South Africa, Maponya formed a business group called Kilimanjaro Holdings which then successfully acquired a bottling-plant in East London. In all of his ventures, he has always, as he puts it, tried to “start up something and create hundreds of jobs.”
These early successes were accompanied by a busy professional life.
In the mid-1950s he joined the Johannesburg African Chamber of Commerce and soon became its President. His drive to unite small African businesses nationally led to the formation of the National African Chamber of Commerce in 1964 of which he was founding President.
When, a decade later, the apartheid government required this organisation to disband and re-establish itself along ethnic lines, the leadership refused and stood their ground to form a federation – the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce (NAFCOC), as it is still known today.
He was for a time active in politics in the then Lebowa Homeland, and served on the Urban Bantu Council; this political interest led to his serving on the first and second assemblies of CODESA.
He has said of his many commitments: Nelson Mandela and others, sacrificed themselves, their jobs and their lives for our freedom. My contribution was small. I wasn’t locked up. But I was undermining the regime. I was exposing them. I was making the statement that, given a chance, a black man could become as successful as a white man.
Dr Richard Maponya has received many accolades for his achievements. Foremost amongst these awards, he is the recipient of the National Order of the Baobab, the highest honour that the country can bestow on an individual.
Others are too numerous to list here, but among them is his being a founder and trustee of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund; in 2008 he was awarded the Ernst and Young Lifetime Achievement Award as well as one from the Top 100 Companies.
The following year he was given similar recognition in the Small Business Excellence Award, the BEE Entrepreneur Award from the Wits Business School and Barloworld, and in 2009 he was voted the top business man of the year by Topco Media. His role in national culture has been equally prestigious. He has hosted numerous national and international dignitaries including Nelson Mandela on his first visit to Johannesburg after his release from jail, and before that the American Congressmen Edward Kennedy and W M L Dickinson, as well as ambassadors, sports stars and entertainers.
In recent years, Maponya’s activity has focussed on property development and he has initiated many national developments in order to encourage investment. For this work he has been recognised by the South African Institute of Steel Construction as well as earning growth and innovation awards in 2011. In the last couple of years he has been honoured by the Free Market Foundation, Medifit Technology and the South African Turkish Business Association. He was given a long service award by the Phumelela Turfontein Racecourse; he was the first Black person to be awarded horse racing colours and it should be mentioned here that in the early days he chose for his colours the gold, green and black of the African National Congress (ANC).
The latest project by Dr Richard Maponya is the establishment of his legacy institute and a gift to the people of South Africa, Dr Richard Maponya Institute for Skills and Entrepreneurship Development NPC, which was officially registered on the 9th December 2014. Dr Richard Maponya Institute for Skills and Entrepreneurship Development’s primary objective is to develop skills among the South Africans and already practicing learner entrepreneurs in diverse sectors of the economy.
Dr Maponya was introduced to SENAI Institute during his business visit to Brazil, as a member of the delegation of the South African President, Hon. Jacob Zuma.
On return to South Africa he reported back to President Jacob Zuma, who was supportive of Dr Maponya’s vision of establishing similar Institute in South Africa.
The academic world has also recognised Dr Maponya as an inspirational role model for young, aspirant graduates and entrepreneurs. To date he has received two honorary doctorates, one from the Tshwane University of Technology and the other from the University of Johannesburg as well as an Honorary Fellowship Award from the Mangosuthu University of Technology. Durban University of Technology awarded Richard Maponya an Honorary Doctorate in Business Management in April 2015
Dr Richard Maponya’s Life-Long Commitment to South Africa: “I cannot retire. Retire and do what? I believe that for as long as I am alive and healthy, I must do whatever I can to benefit my community. I will work until they sing hamba kahle. I will die with my boots on.” Dr Maponya (Mail & Guardian, 17 Aug 2005)