Picture: 123RF/PHARTISAN
Picture: 123RF/PHARTISAN

On Saturday morning we woke up to the sad news that a giant of our times and a beacon of black business was no more. Archie Siphiwo Nkonyeni, or “AS” as he was known, died at the age of 84.

He was a larger-than-life character, who left an indelible impression in all the endeavours he was involved in.

Nkonyeni was an accountant by qualification and training. He studied at the University of Cape Town where he obtained a B Com degree. In later years he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Walter Sisulu University for his leadership role and rare feat of business successes in different fields.

He had businesses in various fields, including his two passions; property development and agriculture.

Born in Qhora village, just outside of Butterworth in the Eastern Cape, Nkonyeni began his business career early in his life in the 1960s. He joined the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Nafcoc) in its early days, first serving as the president of the erstwhile Transkei Chamber of Commerce (Tracoc). His stature and fame grew beyond the Eastern Cape and SA.

He advocated for a strong black business class that was be able to use its collective skills to emancipate black people from grinding poverty.

He was the best known entrepreneur in the then homeland of Transkei. At one time in his life he was the manager of the biggest hotel in the homeland, the Transkei Hotel.

He was also big in buying properties and renting them out. He  owned Jobs Hardware Stores which had outlets in Umtata and Tsolo towns. He was the first black man to own and run mall in Transkei when he opened up City Centre, in Umtata.

When he was with the Xhosa Development Corporation (which was later renamed Transkei Development Corporation), he earnestly developed black entrepreneurs and started the process replacing white traders with black traders in towns and rural areas across the homeland.

Nafcoc benefited immensely from his extensive expertise in finance and auditing and he was instrumental in the formation of the Nafcoc investment arm, Nafhold. He was one of the federation’s shining light when the African Bank was formed.

Nkonyeni rose through the ranks to serve in various capacities at the Nafcoc national office, culminating in him being elected the national president. Before that he served for many years as the deputy president of Nafcoc when the federation was led by Sam Motsuenyane.

He was a fearless business leader who was not shy to express his views, even on controversial issues of the day. He was also an empowerment champion and mentor to many young business people.

He also believed in using his skills to help others. This is did through his role as an accomplished author and writer. His first book, Capitalist without Capital, was about the trials and tribulations that black businesspeople faced during apartheid and still face now in the post-apartheid SA.

In 2012 authored the book Black Property Pioneer, a biography on his life and businesses. In it he penned the secrets behind his success and advice to upcoming business people, to be “forthright and commanding”, if necessary, in their path to success. The book is also instructive to those who want to know how to navigate the complex and treacherous world between business and politics.

Nkonyeni sat on a number of boards of big companies’ in SA. He was a director and shareholder of African Bank and a  shareholder and director of Resilient Property Fund. He also sat on the boards of Metropolitan Life Insurance, M Cell which started the cellphone giant MTN, Multichoice and Daimler Chrysler, among other companies.

I was one of the people fortunate enough to have known and worked with Nkonyeni. I witnessed his humble yet forthright personality. He was an intellectual giant and fountain of knowledge. When you met him you often left with something new. He was one of the leaders who thought out of the box, who was keen on trying new ideas. He knew that even in failure, one learns invaluable lessons.

It is sad to lose leaders like Nkonyeni at the time when their knowledge and experience is sorely needed in SA.

• Macingwane is the national president of Nafcoc

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments?
Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.