10 intriguing facts about Richard Maponya for budding black entrepreneurs

Everyone striving for business success needs some inspiration, and these intriguing facts about the late Dr. Richard Maponya will no-doubt give budding black entrepreneurs the edge they need to create their own success

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BORN IN THE then Northern Transvaal (Limpopo) on December 24, 1920, South Africa’s founding father of township entrepreneurship, Dr. Richard Maponya, is no more.

Revered for leading change for black business, the former teacher is best known for building the R650m Maponya Mall business empire in Soweto and many other successful businesses prior – at the time when it was deemed impossible to do so.  

It was during the height of apartheid when heavy restrictions were imposed on black South Africans and businesses thereof that he sought to challenge the status quo, and took the brave decision to open a clothing retailer in Soweto in the 1950s.

His determination to see the Soweto township develop economically led to many more establishments such as the first black-owned BMW Auto dealership and Maponya Motor City in 1985 and 2012 respectively.

Under the Maponya Africa Group emblem, you can find several ventures which include property development, horse racing and breeding, retail, automotive sales, filling stations and liquor stores.

Upon the news of his death on Monday the president’s office issued a statement, reiterating Dr. Maponya’s vision to see black businesses grow and become key drivers of the South African economy.

“We have lost a pioneer, a trailblazer and a man of extraordinary fortitude who paved the way for the racial transformation of the South African economy,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said adding:

“He was of that rare breed of entrepreneurs who would not be held back or become disheartened by difficult operating conditions – in fact, having obstacles put in his path drove him even further to succeed.”

10 intriguing facts about Richard Maponya

Aged 99 at the time of his death and still actively involved in business, here are 10 facts about Dr. Maponya that should inspire anyone striving for business success.

  • A teacher by training, Dr. Maponya took a job as a stock taker in the 1950s at a clothing company – 24 at the time – which sold garments to miners and rural people. 
  • The manager sold Dr. Maponya soiled clothing and offcuts, which he then resold in Soweto – on pay as wear system upon realizing people didn’t have money to buy upfront. This eventually saw him save enough capital to open a clothing retailer in Soweto despite being denied a license under apartheid laws.
  • Not long after this, Dr. Maponya and his wife Marina (a cousin of Mandela) established the Dube Hygienic Dairy, which employed underprivileged young boys on bicycles to deliver milk to Soweto customers who didn’t have access to electricity or refrigeration.
  • When his milk supply business started slowing down due to stiff competition from big businesses such as Clover, he knew when to “let go” and started Maponya’s Supply Stores, a backstreet store that grew into a massive retail empire which consisted of a butchery, a fruit and vegetable store and grocery store.
  • As his business empire continue to grow, he began to feel the pinch from the “apartheid” red tapes that stifled black businesses from further advancing. This led to Dr. Maponya resorting to establish the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce (Nafcoc) – of which he served as its first president – and likewise the African Chamber of Commerce. With this came the opportunity to secure a piece of land – in 1979 – on which Maponya Mall would be built, first on a 100-year lease.
  •  Fast forward to the 80s, he again encountered challenges with his current business, Maponya’s Supply Store. He shut it down to built Mountain Motors. The business, the second black-owned petrol garage in Soweto would become the first black owned garage to have a motor vehicle (BMW) dealership.
  • When the business started to encounter some serious operational issues, he once again closed shop and went after his biggest dream and venture yet, to build a world-class mall right in the heart of Soweto. His dream began to take shape in 1994 – during the dawn of democracy and several attempts later – after he acquired the land outright. 
  • After more than two decades of sweat, court applications and fundraising, on September 27, 2007, the late Nelson Mandela officially opened Maponya Mall, one of the largest shopping centres in southern Africa. A catalyst for job creation in ‘ekasi’ which saw close to 2000 jobs created at the time, it houses more than 200 stores and state-of-the-art cinema complex.
  • Renowned for being a leading racehorse breeder and owner, Dr. Maponya challenged the lily-white “sport of kings” by applying for an owner’s licence – back in the 80s – which took five years before it could be approved.

  • Dr. Maponya also established the Maponya Motor City on Klipspruit Valley Road in Orlando East in 2012. A first of its kind in the south of Johannesburg, the development included a Volkswagen and Toyota dealership respectively.

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