Richard John Maponya, 92, is a South African entrepreneur best known for building his business empire out of nothing and his determination to see the Soweto township develop economically. He is also the founder and first president of the National Federated Chamber of Commerce (NAFCOC).
At the age of 24, Maponya took a job as a stocktaker at a clothing maker and through his diligence and hard work, he won a promotion for both himself and his white manager. In gratitude, the manager sold Maponya some secondhand clothing which he resold in Soweto. With the capital acquired, he attempted to open his own clothing retail business in Soweto but he was unsuccessful as a result of the government’s refusal to grant him a license.
In the early 1950s, Maponya and his wife Marina (a cousin of Nelson Mandela) established the Dube Hygienic Dairy, a company that employed boys on bicycles to deliver milk to customers in Soweto who had no access to electricity or refrigeration. By the 1970s the retail empire had grown to include several general stores, car dealerships and filling stations.
Richard Maponya is one of the wealthiest known business personalities in South Africa. Although he started small, today he has companies with operations ranging from property development, horse racing, and breeding, retail, automotive sales, filling stations and liquor stores. He brought a motor vehicle sales franchise business into Soweto called Mountain Motor and has operated a BMW franchise. Also, when the initial Coca-Cola operation disinvested from South Africa, Maponya saw an opportunity. He formed part of a group of businessmen called Kilimanjaro Holdings, which acquired Coca-Cola’s bottling plant in East London.
His biggest project to date is the joint venture with property group Zenprop in the construction of a shopping mall in Soweto, the Maponya Mall in September 2007. It is said to be one of the biggest in South Africa.
Maponya is regarded in many circles as the father of black retail in South Africa. He established a thriving business empire in the 1950s when apartheid made it almost impossible for black people to enter the formal business arena. He cannot be written off when talking about how far Africa has come and he is indeed one of the few Africans that has changed the face of Africa and Africans.