Richard Maponya – a trailblazer for black business dies aged 99

As a student in the 80s in the height of the restrictive laws of the apartheid regime, I met Richard Maponya in rather unusual circumstances for the time. A group of political science students from the University of Pretoria managed to arrange for a day in Soweto where we toured the township, met a pastor from one of the local churches and ended up in some kind of club; it was probably a shebeen later that night. For somebody who came from the leafy suburbs of Pretoria’s east it was an eye-opener. I had no idea that these vibrant entertainment venues with music, dancing and drinking were thriving despite the restrictive environment in which they were operating. At the time, Richard Maponya was not a man with the sharp suits he later came to be known for, but he was a businessman with spaza shops that he ran successfully despite the laws that severely restricted black businessmen, which he spoke about to our group on the night. Even then he was impressive and kind, and I made a mental note of his name. Later when I became a journalist and broadcast a series of programmes about changes to the liquor laws in South Africa; I contacted Maponya for an interview to get his views, and after that we remained in contact for a number of years. I ran into him at political events through the years and he always joked about the night that we met in Soweto. Maponya became a successful businessman despite many obstacles in his path and paved the way for many other black business leaders. He was ,as President Cyril Rampahosa described him in his homage, a real trailblazer. – Linda van Tilburg

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s statement on the passing of Dr Richard Maponya

President Cyril Ramaphosa has expressed his condolences to the family of esteemed business leader Dr Richard Maponya following his passing in the early hours of Monday, 6 January 2020.

Dr Maponya, widely respected as the doyen of black business, passed away in Johannesburg just a few days after his 99th birthday.

“We have lost a pioneer, a trailblazer and a man of extraordinary fortitude who paved the way for the racial transformation of the South African economy,” President Ramaphosa said.

“Dr Maponya’s life is a testament to resilience, determination and the power of vision: namely to see black business grow to assume its full role as the key participant and driver of our economy,” President Ramaphosa said.

Dr. Maponya’s business career spanned over half a century, and began in the retail sector in the 1950s when he and his wife Marina opened a milk distribution company in Soweto. Together they expanded their business empire to include interests in retail, automotive, filling stations and property development.

“He was of that rare breed of entrepreneurs who would not be held back or become disheartened by difficult operating conditions – in fact, having obstacles put in his path drove him even further to succeed,” the President said.

Dr Maponya was a founding member of the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce (NAFCOC) and chairman of the African Chamber of Commerce. He actively sought to capacitate nascent black businesses and variously lent his support to entrepreneurship ventures, particularly in Soweto.

The President said Dr Maponya’s success was the combination of natural business acumen and sheer hard work – encouraging countless black businessmen and businesswomen to take up opportunities even in the face of difficulties.

In this process he set powerful examples in tenacity, inspiration and innovation not just to black entrepreneurs but to business persons from all parts of South African society, as well as to continental compatriots with whom he developed close partnerships and networks.

“He understood that to get to the top, one has to begin at the very bottom. He began his career as a stock taker, and today, over 50 years later, the Maponya Mall in Soweto stands as a towering symbol of perseverance and achievement,” the President added.

“Dr Maponya embodied sustainability and corporate social responsibility and investment well before these concepts were academically defined. He was a patriot who believed in the power of building businesses that build communities.”

President Ramaphosa has expressed his condolences to the Maponya family and to the friends and colleagues of Dr Maponya.

“The Maponya name is a veritable institution in our public life, standing for excellence and inspiring generations of South Africans,” President Ramaphosa said.

“He has left behind a towering legacy, and I call on businessmen and businesswomen to take up the baton and see fulfilled his long-nurtured dream to open a youth entrepreneurship academy,” the President added.