Tribute to Richard Maponya: The value of inter-generational wealth

Monalisa Sam with Dr Richard Maponya. Picture: Forbes Africa
Monalisa Sam with Dr Richard Maponya. Picture: Forbes Africa

In the wake of Richard Maponya’s passing and celebrating his incredible life, there is a depth of inspiration that can be found in his 99-year journey.

What inspires me most was papa’s value for family and legacy. It was not only in the traditional sense of a father providing for and loving his children dearly, but also in building a legacy with and for them.

I met papa and the Maponya family for the first time in 2007 as a potential candidate for the role of centre manager for the soon-to-open Maponya Mall in Soweto.

Built to be the largest shopping mall in South Africa’s biggest township, the excitement and anticipation by the real estate and retail communities was high. The vibe on Chris Hani Street, (then known as Old Potch Road), was electrifying in the build up to the grand opening by former president Nelson Mandela scheduled for September 27 2007.

The mall would go on to become, in my view, one of the greatest retail case studies of our time. Housed in the 65 000m² world-class building was a 26-year-old dream of a man who worked to see the upliftment of black people through retail and infrastructure.

There were dreams within a dream of the young people that secured jobs in the mall as well as the dreams of black-owned businesses that opened their stores in the mall of that stature for the first time.

I was thoroughly impressed but nervous about being interviewed by the retail tycoon and his children, Charlotte and Solly Maponya.

It was my first personal encounter of a family in business and it left a lasting impression and reflection of what it means to build inter-generational wealth.

I was successful in the interview and my work life not only revolved around the commercial success of the mall but also in the wisdom of this powerful and generous family.

They worked together, supported each other, challenged each other, uplifted each other their father and mother’s vision. I learnt first hand from this experience what it means to work for good as a black family despite the limitations imposed on their path by the oppressive apartheid regime.

They chose as a family to contribute to the economic liberation and success of a community that had help build their various businesses in Soweto. Everything they did was for the people of Soweto first.

The growing legacy was the continuation of what both papa Maponya and his late wife Marina Maponya, a business trailblazer herself, had started together. Though she had already passed on when I worked with the family, her spirit of community remained with her husband and her children in all that they achieved. It was powerful to watch and a privilege for be apart of.

At a time that we are often looked upon with suspicion of working with family or opening up opportunities in business for our relatives and at a time when many families have been broken by business ventures gone wrong, the lessons from papa and his family are important to reflect on and learn from today.

There is no doubt that they too faced their challenges as a family working together but here was a visionary who used business to create a spirit of unity and entrepreneurship among his children. In the process, he left them and us a legacy of inter-generational wealth inheritance.

The country is a beneficiary of a legacy built from nothing by a black family who now stand as role models of what happens when families persevere together with a purpose.

Papa, your story will be told for generations to come and families will rise because you came and showed us the lasting value of pursuing greatness as family.

Rest in power, Papa. Rest in honour, Ntlou.

  • Monalisa Sam was the first manager of the Maponya Mall in Soweto

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