Richard Maponya , during the celebrations of 6th anniversary of Maponya Mall in Soweto. September 2013. Picture: ANTONIO MUCHAVE
Richard Maponya , during the celebrations of 6th anniversary of Maponya Mall in Soweto. September 2013. Picture: ANTONIO MUCHAVE

Business icon Richard Maponya, who died early on Monday, has been remembered for his contribution to the development of black business in the face of apartheid and his support for black entrepreneurs.

Maponya, who went on to develop Soweto’s Maponya Mall, among other things, was also well known for his passion and commitment to his Soweto community.

He died after a brief illness at the age of 99.

“We have lost a pioneer, a trailblazer and a man of extraordinary fortitude who paved the way for the racial transformation of the SA economy,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a statement on Monday.

“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,” the president said.

Despite restrictions placed on black business under apartheid, Maponya, alongside his late wife Marina, established a dairy distribution business in Soweto in the 1950s, which would ultimately grow to include enterprises in retail, vehicle dealerships, filling stations and property development.

“Dr Maponya distinguished himself as a successful businessman at a time when it was extremely difficult for black people to start a business, let alone excel in business,” said Business Unity SA (Busa) acting CEO Cas Coovadia.   

“He also played a sterling role in the community where he lived all his life. He was a social entrepreneur well before the term was coined and ploughed back into his community as he became successful. He set an example for business people and conducted his business ethically and morally,” Coovadia said.

Maponya was a founding member of the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce (Nafcoc), which championed the interests of black businesses under apartheid. Among his many accolades, Maponya was a recipient of the national Order of the Baobab in 2007, in recognition of his distinguished service in the fields of business and the economy.

Nafcoc president Sabelo Macingwane described Maponya as the “Nelson Mandela of black business”.

“Dr Maponya epitomised success against all odds as he rose from humble rural beginnings to become a highly successful businessman, not only in SA, but continentally as well,” said Macingwane.

“His tenacity, amid apartheid colonialism, should inspire successive generations of black business to raise the bar even higher,” he said.

“There can never be enough words to pay tribute to this legend, who against the most difficult challenges and odds rose to be a shining beacon of light for black business in the apartheid days, and continued to make a massive contribution to the broader business community in post-apartheid SA,” said Alan Mukoki, CEO of the SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SACCI).

Maponya was not only an activist, but a visionary and innovative leader in business and SA society in general, Mukoki said 

“His achievements are incomparable, given the huge obstacles he had to overcome and endure in building his business dynasty,” he added.

The University of Johannesburg — which through its Centre for Entrepreneurship holds the annual Dr Richard Maponya Lecture and  Dr Richard Maponya Soweto Conference — said his “selfless dedication to revitalising township entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship has resulted in many thriving youth start-ups in and around Soweto, and across the greater Johannesburg”.

The ANC’s Gauteng province called Maponya’s death the “end of an era in the SA township business landscape”.  It hailed his “unparalleled contribution in the struggle against apartheid through the development of black business.”

“The province of Gauteng and indeed the entire country has been left poorer at the passing of this pioneer and an entrepreneur par excellence,” it said.

The IFP said the party, along with its president emeritus, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, sent sincere condolences to Maponya’s family. “We can all draw some comfort in knowing that Ntate Maponya was a great man and he will be solely missed. We pray that his soul rest in perfect peace and salute him for his infectious character, meticulousness and wisdom,” the party’s statement read.

“In 2007, Time magazine honoured the great entrepreneur Dr Richard Maponya with these words, “He has spent his life subverting the established narrative.” How true that is of the man I knew and the man I called my friend,” Buthelezi said in a separate statement.

The department of trade and industry said on Monday that Maponya’s efforts to build successful enterprises left a legacy that should inspire a new generation of business leaders.

“Dr Maponya remained active for many years after he stepped down from running his businesses. He will be missed in the community and business world and we extend our condolences to his family and loved ones. In the next year, we are stepping up efforts to deepen economic inclusion, particularly for young people, workers and local communities,” trade and industry minister Ebrahim Patel said.

donnelleyl@businesslive.co.za