Humble, magnanimous and generous are some of the words President Cyril Ramaphosa used to describe Dr Richard Maponya during his funeral service at the University of Johannesburg Soweto campus on Tuesday.
“Today we bid farewell to a man of extraordinary resilience, who rose above his circumstances and persevered until he reached his pinnacle of success. And yet he remained humble, magnanimous and generous,” Ramaphosa said to the hundreds gathered to bid farewell to the business giant.
First lady Dr Tshepo Motsepe, former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Graça Machel were among the ministers and dignitaries present at the service.
Maponya – fondly known as the “godfather of black business” – passed away on January 6 after a short illness. He was 99 years old.
Trained as a teacher, he started his business career in the clothing industry, but was blocked from opening a clothing store by the apartheid government.
In 2007, he realised his 26-year-long dream of giving the people of Soweto their own glittering shopping centre when Maponya Mall was opened, with land he bought in the 1970s.
“From his earliest days and long before it became a popular term, he demonstrated the qualities of responsible corporate citizenship. He did not hoard the gains he made over the decades in business, but ploughed them back into the communities he lived in,” Ramaphosa added.
IFP founder and former leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi said Maponya was the “most visionary individual he has ever met”.
“He inspired me, as he inspired many of us. His name will be remembered among the icons of our nation,” he said.
“Maponya was a giant. I feel a deep sense of loss as I speak about my friend. When his children asked me to speak this morning, I knew that this would be a difficult task. Although I’ve spoken at many funerals and lost many friends, I feel a burden of doing justice to a giant such as Maponya. He deserves to be honoured.”
Buthelezi concluded by encouraging his family to continue sharing stories about Maponya and said that was where they would find comfort.
Naledi Sibeko, Maponya’s grandchild who spoke on behalf of his grandchildren, thanked all those who had come to “celebrate a life well lived”.
Sibeko reminisced on how Maponya would dress up as Santa Claus on Christmas and hand out gifts to the family.
“Grandpa had a great sense of humour and we would laugh often with him. He really had his own special way of showing us how he loved us and I’m sure, at some point, each of us thought we were the favourite,” she said.
Sibeko recalled Maponya’s last birthday celebration in December that was filled with “cake and conversation”.
“We got to ask him any question about his long life and grandpa’s memory was amazing,” she told the crowd.
The funeral procession was expected to go to West Park Cemetery, where Maponya would be laid to rest.
“O robale ka kgotso Tlou. Until we meet again,” Ramaphosa said.