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The late Sam Motsuenyane. Picture: ROBERT TSHABALALA
The late Sam Motsuenyane. Picture: ROBERT TSHABALALA

Sam Motsuenyane is remembered as a “father of black business” and an “outstanding patriot”. His legacy is etched on the collective memory as a stalwart of SA’s business landscape and a symbol of hope.

Motsuenyane’s death on Monday, at the age of 97, marks the end of an era for a man whose vision transcended limitations imposed by apartheid, and whose strategic acumen, perseverance and determination in establishing the African Bank was nothing short of revolutionary.

The passing of Motsuenyane, a son of Potchefstroom, triggered a flood of emotions from President Cyril Ramaphosa, former president Thabo Mbeki, as well as Business Unity SA and the Black Business Council.

In a statement this week, Ramaphosa praised Motsuenyane’s passion and vision in his fight for self-reliance and development.

“His philosophy of self-sufficiency is today entrenched in the constitutional right each of us enjoys to freely choose our trade, occupation or profession and in the socioeconomic rights that our constitution safeguards,” Ramaphosa said, describing him as an “outstanding patriot”.

That phrase, while accurate, hardly captures the essence of a man whose influence reshaped the fabric of black businesses with such flair that it left sceptics speechless.

Echoing this sentiment, Mbeki paid homage to the business leader, acknowledging his pivotal role in the establishment of Nafcoc, an organisation that under his stewardship became synonymous with black empowerment and economic independence.

Dondo Mogajane, chair of the Government Employees Pension Fund, hailed Motsuenyane as an “inspirational leader” who had a profound influence on the development of black business, especially during the dark days of apartheid.

Born on the Eignaarsfontein farm in Potchefstroom in 1927, Motsuenyane was among the founding members of the National Federated Chamber of Commerce, or Nafcoc, through which he established and sponsored black-owned businesses.

His journey from the rural landscapes of Potchefstroom to the forefront of economic transformation is a tale of resilience and self-determination. His early life on a farm, far from the centres of power, did not deter him from pursuing an education and eventually becoming a key figure in SA’s transition.


Motsuenyane, a University of Carolina graduate, also served his country after retiring from Nafcoc in 1992 to join parliament as the leader of the senate. He later represented SA as the first ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 1996 to 2000.

His efforts in establishing African Bank were not just about creating a financial institution, they were about laying the groundwork for economic freedom and empowerment for the black community. African Bank continues to shine as a symbol of hope and a testament to the power of perseverance.

African Bank, a major player in the SA banking industry with about R30bn in assets, traces its roots to the 1964 Nafcoc conference, where delegates bemoaned the difficulties black business leaders encountered in getting funding from white banks at the time.

“I told business people that probably the time had come for black people to do what the black Americans did when they encountered similar problems with their businesses.

Instead of worrying about not being funded, they should start their own institution,” said Motsuenyane in a 2020 video posted on his foundation’s website. “There were a lot of doubtful Thomases in the crowd although they agreed with the idea, but when it came to the practical side of indicating a willingness to sacrifice there were very few people... the constructive minority came forward and put a few cents on the table and they amounted to only R70.”

It would take 10 years for African Bank to raise R1m, enough to obtain a full licence from the Reserve Bank, and open its first branch in Ga-Rankuwa, then a homeland under Bophuthatswana, thanks to sheer determination and courage.

“There were lots of people there who witnessed the opening of the first branch, and great rain fell and the Batswana shouted ‘pula!’,” Motsuenyane recalled, referring to the Sesotho, Setswana and Sepedi words for rain, a deeply symbolic force that holds a significant place in the spiritual and practical lives of people in many African cultures.

Ethical leadership

His legacy is not confined within the walls of African Bank or the annals of Nafcoc. It is etched in the lives of countless South Africans who found in him a source of inspiration, a model of ethical leadership and determination.

Those who knew Motsuenyane, or were inspired by him, say his legacy is a chapter that will be revisited time and again, serving as a beacon, illuminating the path for those who dare challenge the status quo. One of them is Mncane Mthunzi, former president of the Black Management Forum, whose PhD research on economic inclusion was inspired by Motsuenyane.

“Unfortunately, I never got an opportunity to interview (him) for my PhD studies but his commitment to ethical business practices and empowerment of black entrepreneurs inspired my research,” said Mthunzi.

A close family friend, Molefi Moloatoa, CEO of Avidity Group, a customer experience research and marketing specialist, hailed Motsuenyane for his sheer determination. He said that Motsuenyane’s life story must be a clarion call to all those who seek to make a difference and to those who believe that with enough resolve any barrier can be overcome and any dream can be realised.

“He gave so much of himself, and he was still giving of himself till his last day,” said Moloatoa.

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