Richard John Pelwana Maponya, “the father of black retail” in South Africa, is an entrepreneur and property developer who, over the years, has established a substantial business empire in the Johannesburg suburb of Soweto.
Maponya was born in the Limpopo village of Lenyenye on December 24, 1926. Though he trained as a teacher, his first job was as a stock-taker at a clothing retail store in the Johannesburg central business district. Maponya’s manager took the 24-year-old under his wing, providing him with soiled cloth and off-cuts that the budding entrepreneur had made up into clothes and sold in Soweto.
Though Maponya’s clothing retail business was closed down by the apartheid authorities, he was armed with the business savvy and determination to make his mark in the South African retail sector. Using the money he had saved from the short-lived business, Maponya, together with his wife Marina, opened a dairy products shop and delivery service in Soweto that employed 100 bicycle delivery men.
Maponya’s dairy business soon expanded, becoming a general provisions store. In time, Maponya ventured into other parts of Soweto, exploring business ventures in sectors as varied as the motor, construction, retail and service industries. His empire grew to include a car-rental agency, horse-racing stables and stud farm, funeral parlour and business services division. One of his most recent accomplishments was the development of the R450-million Maponya Mall in Soweto – one of the biggest in the country.
Maponya’s family is at the centre of his business today. His children hold managerial positions in the business and have been given the leeway to make and implement their own decisions – under his watchful eye, of course! Maponya himself is not quite ready to retire: the octogenarian is in the process of setting up the Maponya Institute, a training facility for young entrepreneurs.
Maponya started out in the tough world of business at a time when the apartheid government’s restrictive practices obstructed the operations and successes of black entrepreneurs. But his determination, hard work and will to succeed paid off – and have earned him national recognition. Maponya is a recipient of the National Order of the Baobab, the highest honour in South Africa, as well as honorary doctorates from Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Johannesburg.