Richard Maponya memorial: 'He freed black people to become businessmen, not labourers'

richard maponya
richard maponya

An generous and religious man with an impeccable, unmatched work ethic is how mourners described business pioneer Dr Richard Maponya at his memorial at the Rosebank Union Church on Friday.

Maponya passed away on Monday at age 99 after a brief illness. 

A qualified teacher, he started his pioneer career in business by working in a clothing shop in his twenties.

He soon left that job to start a secondhand clothing business, selling clothing items door to door. Later, he started a milk delivery business, where he employed young people to deliver milk to the greater Soweto on bicycles every morning.

But his first big break was when he received a licence to sell groceries, open a butchery and to establish a “Bantu” eating hub in Dube, Soweto. At the time, the law didn’t allow sale of medicine in the store, so he covered those items with a brown piece of paper.

After opening small grocery shops, car dealerships and petrol stations, he later ventured into property development - establishing massive R650m Maponya Mall that opened in 2007 in Soweto. It was the first investment of its size in a township.

The way Maponya pushed for the economic emancipation of black people, arguing for their participation in the economy as businessmen rather than labourers is what he’d mostly be remembered for, said Reverend Fredolene Manganye of the AME Church in Orlando at his memorial.  

“This man, at the time when nobody thought of it, decided that we too deserved economic empowerment,” said Magaye.

Maponya showed him that "we are the captains of our own destiny", said former mayor of Johannesburg Herman Mashaba in his tribute.


Former Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba addresses the business pioneer Richard Maponya's memorial service in Rosebank, Johannesburg on Friday. Photo: Phumi Ramalepe

A man of faith, the day before he passed away, Maponya called the whole family together, including his grand and great grandchildren as well as two religious leaders – something he used to do often – to have a last lunch with them, mourners heard on Friday.

Maponya had 10 children, 25 grandchildren and 19 great grandchildren.

Soweto hero

Speaking on behalf of the Maponya family, family member William Maponya said that up to his last day, Dr Maponya was worried about the state of the economy and the fact that it wasn’t creating jobs for the people and youth of Soweto.

He said Maponya believed in Soweto’s economic potential and that business can thrive in the country’s biggest township which is why he was working on establishing more businesses and expanding his existing operations there until his last days.

“Whatever contribution he could make, to create jobs for Soweto, he’d do that.”

“Most people know him as a businessman, but we know him as a loving father,” said Maponya.

Unmatched work ethic

Ladi Adelusi, Maponya's right-hand man in the Maponya Group, said he was a man of action who made sure the goals he’d set were achieved at all costs. He continued working long hours in his later years, staying in the office past 9pm even when people his age were all retired.

“What we discussed on those late nights was work, work, work,” said Adelusi.

He still visited his farm in Magaliesburg frequently and was frequently on the road to attend business meetings. He didn’t even take breaks during festive holidays, said Adelusi.  

“He’d say; ‘what are you gonna do when you die? You only rest when you die… I don’t think I ever met anybody with his kind of work ethic” he added.

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