Richard Maponya – The trailblazing tycoon

Businessman and Maponya Mall owner Richard Maponya in 2015 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Picture: Gallo Images / Sunday World / Sandile Ndlovu
Businessman and Maponya Mall owner Richard Maponya in 2015 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Picture: Gallo Images / Sunday World / Sandile Ndlovu

Trailblazing South African businessperson Dr Richard Maponya died in the early hours of Monday morning after a short illness, his family confirme.

Maponya celebrated his 99th birthday on December 24 and was still active enough to try and set up a business academy in November last year.

In 2013, Maponya was celebrated as part of the series 100 World Class South Africans. This is an edited version of that piece.

In 2012, the ‘godfather of black business’ in South Africa received a lifetime achievement award from the African Leadership Network.

In his speech, Maponya said, "The African economy is growing, and presenting opportunities for entrepreneurs that in my time were a pipe dream."

In spite of apartheid’s restrictions, Maponya created a thriving business empire that flew in the face of apartheid's architects, thwarting them time and time again.

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.

He opened the first dairy products shop in Soweto in 1952 – with bicycle deliveries. With numerous police raids and constant battles for licences, he still ventured into just about every service one could think of: groceries, petrol, transport, funerals, car sales. He later went into property and racehorse breeding as well. 

A number of firsts were achieved by the trailblazer which include him being the first black member of the SA Jockey Club and the head of the first black JSE-listed company.

He was the founder of the African Chamber of Commerce, was at the negotiation table at Codesa, and hosted everyone from Nelson Mandela to Edward Kennedy at his home.

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, Maponya successfully resisted various attempts by the apartheid government to take the land away from him and cemented his legacy when Mandela cut the ribbon to officially open the mall.

At the age of 87 Maponya was not yet done with plans to build Maponya Motor City in Soweto, starting a rural community business supplying eggs to a major supermarket chain, and opening the Maponya Institute so that young people can learn business skills…from the master.

His impact over the last 60 years is best summed up in his own words to Time magazine: ‘I wasn’t locked up. But I was undermining the regime. I was exposing them. I was making the statement that, given a chance, a black man could become as successful as a white man.’

- Additional reporting Fin24, TimeLive

This article has been updated since it was first published. Initially, we erroneously reported that Maponya was the first black person to own a BMW dealership in Soweto. This is incorrect, Maponya became the second black person to own a BMW dealership in the township after John Hosea Langa. We apologise for the incorrect statement and the inconvenience this may have caused to both the Langa and Maponya families

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