He was in conversation with broadcast star Tim Modise at a function at the Free Market Foundation (FMF) on Wednesday.
Maponya was awarded the 6th FMF Luminary Award in recognition of his “outstanding entrepreneurial achievement and leadership as a self-made businessman under the almost impossible conditions of apartheid”.
About 70 people gathered at the FMF offices to see him receive the award – interestingly, a largely male audience, as only 12 of those present were women, and of those at least two were staff.
Maponya said he had almost cried when he saw that Nigeria had taken over the economic lead in Africa from South Africa.
He wondered why SA has not “gotten our act together as a country”, reminding those present how South Africa had surprised the world by pulling off one of the best Soccer World Cup tournaments ever in 2010.
An answer of a kind was supplied when he told the guests of a trip he took with President Jacob Zuma to Brazil three years ago.
Brazil had had, he explained, over 50% unemployed when they were “fortunate in getting a trade unionist as president”.
When he took power he “changed Brazil by training the people to use their own hands”, Maponya said.
The unemployment rate had dropped from 50% to 5% in 10 years, he said, and 24 million people had moved up into the middle class.
“This I really believe needs to be introduced into my country,” Maponya said.
“After 20 years of the new dispensation the majority of our people are still living below the breadline. I think it’s a shame in a country like South Africa that has so much.”
On his return, he set out to found an organisation that would train young South Africans in a similar way, with the enthusiastic support of the Brazilians.
“The Brazilians said 'get a letter from your government and we would be happy to come in and work with you'.”
Zuma referred Maponya to the right minister, and, armed with the letter, he invited his Brazilian friends to come over.
Six of them arrived, and he took them to Funda Centre in Soweto, which he envisaged as a good place to establish the training centre.
It is on 21 hectares of land, so there’s room for development, and the Brazilians were delighted.
And then Maponya got stuck. It was necessary to get a Memorandum of Understanding from “Higher Education”, as well as accreditation.
The Brazilians pointed out that quality training was vital, which should enable South Africans to work anywhere in the world.
Two years on, the idea is still languishing at this point.
The other factor that would help is to encourage young aspirant entrepreneurs by providing risk financing.
This is currently difficult for youngsters, especially black youngsters, to obtain.
This should be aimed especially at “a man who has self-initiative”, a self-starter who does not wait around for a hand up, but acts as Maponya himself did.
That means a go-getter, who did not let the restrictions and difficulties prevent him from founding multiple companies.