Dr. Richard Maponya has run a great race

THANDISIZWE MGUDLWA Reviews the career of Dr. Richard Maponya

Dr. Richard Maponya has been widely referred to as “the Godfather of Black Business”.

A pioneer in his own right, established his first business in the early 1950s after persistent pressure and eventually convincing the officials to consider giving him a trading license to sell foodstuff through the legal partnership of Mandela/Tambo which made representation on his behalf that led to the issuing of his first General Dealer’s License.

At age 85, Richard John Pelwana Maponya has come a long way.

The iconic Dr Maponya was born in Lenyenye in the Northern Transvaal (now Limpopo Province) of South Africa on December 24, 1926.

AS SA business archives reveal, at age 24, Dr Maponya, then a teacher, took a job as a stock taker at a clothing maker and subsequently won a promotion for both himself and his white manager. In gratitude, the manager sold Maponya soiled clothing and offcuts. Maponya resold them in Soweto, Johannesburg.

Soweto is an urban area of the City of Johannesburg in Gauteng, South Africa, bordering the city’s mining belt in the south. Its name is an English syllabic abbreviation for South Western Townships.

Formerly a separate municipality, it is now incorporated in the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality, Suburbs of Johannesburg.

Dr. Moponya, with the capital acquired from reselling the soiled clothing and offcuts, he attempted to open a clothing retailer in Soweto, but was blocked by the government’s refusal to grant him a licence – despite the intervention by the law firm created by Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela.”

Tambo and Mandela were also freedom fighters as members of the African National Congress, a South African National Liberation Movement, established in 1912.

And from humble beginnings, together with his late wife, Marina Maponya, Richard opened Maponya’s Dairy Products in Soweto.

“It was from this that he was able to establish other retail businesses including Maponya Supply Stores, a general dealer which included greengrocers, butchery and eating house. “

He continuously sought new business opportunities to diversify. However, this wasn’t easy given the restrictive laws of the time prohibiting black people to engage in certain business interests.

Further revealed is that, Dr Maponya then opted to remain within the purview of the permitted trading interests and established a string of businesses including; the first motor franchise in Soweto, Mountain Motors, which had a General Motors dealership, which later closed down when GM dis-invested in the country (because of the economic sanctions against the oppressive Apartheid regime).

Dr. Maponya also became politically engaged in the 1970s at the height of the Soweto Uprisings, when students who were marching for freedom, equality and better education, were massacred by the Apartheid police.

But through it all, Dr Maponya soldiered on. He also persevered enough in business career, this is evidenced by other businesses he owned like petrol filling stations, supermarkets – the largest yet in Soweto, a BMW franchise  (the first and only in Soweto) – Soweto BMW, car hire operations, bus service and a funeral parlour, among many others.

And when Coca-Cola dis-invested in South Africa, Dr. Maponya put together a group of black businessmen and formed a company, Kilimanjaro Holdings (Pty) Ltd. He successfully bid for a bottling plant in East London.  He also successfully bid for one of the first cell phone service providers in South Africa, Afrilink.

Through his retail businesses, Dr. Maponya has been involved in property development for many years, and has been actively developing nationally for investment purposes and for third parties.  Dr. Maponya’s development of a regional shopping center in Soweto, Maponya Mall, is said to be the largest private investment into Soweto and ‘has changed the face of Soweto’.

Many people say the iconic Maponya Mall is a symbol of hope and a catalyst for development and economic activity in Soweto and many such areas.

Dr Maponya’s other achievements include: Recipient of the National Order of the Baobab, the highest honour a country bestows on individuals and a Recipient of Honorary Doctorate from the University of Johannesburg.

He is also Founder and Chairman of the Johannesburg African Chamber of Commerce, (a position held for fourteen years).

And was a delegate in the early 1990s at the Congress for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) I & II and he was part of the team that negotiated the new dispensation in South Africa.

He was instrumental in establishing African Bank Limited with the objective of creating a financial institution that would understand the needs of the black entrepreneur and consumer and provide such products, including ‘risk’ debt.

Also of note, is that he hosted the first Black World Champion Tennis player Arthur Ashe and also hosted acclaimed international singer, Percy Sledge.

Dr Richard Maponya, son of the soil, is well recognized and appreciated in  business circles, in the political arena and communities at large. He is a role model and a true African Icon.


Source: photo http://www.thepresidency.gov.za/pebble.asp?relid=7588

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