It is with a heavy heart that I stand before you today.
We have come to bid a sad farewell to a man of extraordinary resilience, who rose above his circumstances and persevered until he reached the pinnacle of success.
And yet he remained humble, magnanimous and generous.
South Africa indeed has lost one of her finest sons.
The Maponya family have lost a father and a brother.
Those who knew and loved Ntate Maponya have lost a confidante, a mentor and a comrade.
On behalf of the government and the people of South Africa, I convey my deepest condolences to the family, to the business community and to the people of Soweto – a place for which he held the deepest of affection and where he first began his journey into the business world.
Richard Pelwana Maponya was the most devoted of patriots.
He loved his country and he loved his people.
He was soldier, not of the battlefield, but at the frontline of the struggle for the economic emancipation of his people – a struggle that endures to this day.
He was a fighter for the liberation of black South Africans from the shackles of poverty, from the manacles of marginalisation and from the chains of economic exclusion.
There have been others today and during the memorial, who have expounded on his life, and shared their memories of a man whose personality was larger than life, and who has left such a deep impact on all who knew him.
He was truly a man who lived for others.
He was a business person, yes.
But he was driven by the conviction that South Africa would never be truly free until the fruits of prosperity were shared by all its people.
He stood for self-upliftment and in doing for oneself.
He inspired a whole new generation of business people, some of whom are here today, and took them under his wing.
He gave courage to many.
Despite his stature as the doyen of black business, he was always there with a hand to pull up those who stood below.
Having scaled the heights, he wanted to see others alongside him on the rostrum of success.
Ntate Richard was always pushing back the frontiers, agitating for more to be done to support small business, and encouraging more people to take the great and daunting leap into entrepreneurship.
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 his decades in business, but ploughed much of it back into the communities in which he operated.
He did not see corporate social investment as an exercise in box ticking, but as an imperative to transform the racialised patterns of the economy.
During the apartheid era, he saw black business as part of the broad liberation movement to advance economic freedom.
In a democratic South Africa, he saw the role of business as that of a partner to government, assisting to resolve the challenges of unemployment, poverty and underdevelopment.
Those who knew him will remember him for being forthright and a straight talker.
He did not hesitate to chide us when he felt we were going off course, but always did so from a position of principle, not malice.
He was alive to the challenges our country, but always urged us to do more, and to go the extra mile to improve the operating environment for business, especially small business.
I personally received many a late night call from him, sharing his viewpoint on one or another pressing issue of the day.
In my very last engagements with him he urged me to do everything I can to see his greatest dream realised, to set up a youth entrepreneurship academy.
It is a wish I will endeavour to see fulfilled on his behalf.
What I will remember most from these conversations is that he did not intellectualise problems, simply rant or speak in vague terms.
He always ended these discussions by saying:
‘Here, this is what I can do. This is what I will do. This is what I have. Send me.’
He knew that in building the society that we want, business must take the lead in coming up with solutions to the unemployment crisis.
And that we can only prevail if we work together.
He was a great and passionate networker, forging partnerships not just locally but across the continent and the world.
He believed that to nurture a national culture of self-employment, big business must do more, through training budding entrepreneurs and by procuring goods and services from smaller businesses.
He had boundless energy and his passion was infectious.
Not even the onset of ill-health could hold him back.
Retirement was not an option.
I am told he would say:
“For as long as the Lord has given me health, I am going to work until the last day when they say ‘Lala Kahle’.”
For him, resolving our country’s challenges wasn’t somebody else’s problem, or government’s problem.It was something that preoccupied him until the very end of his life. Fellow mourners, Fifty years ago, the very idea that a black person could build and own a shopping mall in a black township, where young black men and women could socialise, eat, buy books and watch movies, would have been dismissed as a fantasy.And yet, Richard Maponya did it. Fifty years ago, if it had been said that a black husband and wife team could build a business empire with interests in some of the most important sectors of our economy, it would have been laughed at. And yet, Richard and the late Marina Maponya did it. A mere fifty years ago, if a young black child told their teacher their ambition was to have their own business, and train and mentor other young black men and women to become entrepreneurs, they would have been dismissed. And yet Richard Maponya did it. Ladies and Gentlemen, If there is any lesson we take from the life of our departed friend, it is that humble beginnings and adversity are no barriers to success.He was a man who understood that to get to the very top you have to begin at the very bottom. He was born in the Lenyenye area near Tzaneen in Limpopo at a time when South Africa was a dominion of the British Empire. He lived through the excesses of colonial and apartheid rule, and was witness to the systematic dispossession of black South Africans during both eras. In his 75 years as a businessman he stared adversity in the face, and always found a way. His entrepreneurial flair began at an early age, when as a young boy he would divert river water to his vegetable garden, providing food for his family and selling the surplus.The limitations and constraints of the time did not deter him as he embarked on his business career. There were many obstacles put in his path: licenses were denied, permits were not granted, obtaining credit and land was a challenge.His businesses were raided frequently by apartheid authorities looking for any excuse to penalise him or close him down. But he did not take no for an answer. His story is a window to the mean-spiritedness of the apartheid regime on the one hand, but a tale of triumph over adversity, on the other. He was a champion of black business. He was adamant that economic development begins in communities, and saw the great potential of the township economy. Like a true entrepreneur, he could always spot an opportunity. He tried his hand at many things. Some were successful, others less so. But he persevered. He was always prepared to acknowledge the contribution of others to his success, especially that of his beloved wife Marina. He was an ethical and principled business person. He was appalled at the practices of some businesses that provided substandard services and inferior goods because the public they served were poor. He was fond of young people and always availed himself as a mentor. He encouraged young people to be disciplined, to demonstrate initiative, and to be serious about training and study. He spoke often of the dangers of having a sense of entitlement, and impressed upon them the virtues of hard work and of taking up opportunities, especially to educate themselves. We draw other lessons from his life. We learn that natural business acumen, admirable though it may be, is no substitute for sheer hard work. We learn that ambition must be tempered by humility, that when the going gets tough, you never give up or give in. Above all, to draw from the prayer of St Francis of Assisi, we learn that “it is in giving that we receive”.Our dear father has been called to his Maker.We mourn him, but we pay tribute to a life well lived.He has left behind a legacy that extends well beyond the brick and mortar of his companies.Through his struggles and successes he forever changed the face of business in South Africa.In return for all he gave to his people and to this country, his head was anointed with oil and his cup overflowed.In the words of Psalm 23, surely goodness and mercy shall follow him, and he shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.In the history of this country, his life, his contribution and his achievements will forever be remembered and celebrated.Farewell our father, brother, patriot, friend and great South African. I thank you.