From Milk Deliveries to Mall Development

In 2007, Nelson Mandela officially opened what was at the time one of the biggest shopping centres in South Africa, Maponya Mall, in Soweto.

The R650 million centre, with its 200 stores and cinema complex, was the realisation of a lifelong dream for a local entrepreneur.

Ntate Richard Maponya was born in the Limpopo village of Lenyenye in 1920, moved to Polokwane, where missionaries trained him as a teacher. He moved to Johannesburg in 1948 seeking work as a teacher but ended up as an administration clerk. While working as a stock taker, he began selling second hand clothing in Soweto. This provided the capital to open his own grocery shop in the township. Although, due to the restrictive apartheid laws, he was deprived of a trading license.

In the 1950s, Mr Maponya and his wife Marina Nompinti, started the Dube Hygienic Dairy, which delivered milk by bicycle to clients who had no electricity or refrigerators in Soweto.

In the 1970s, Mr Maponya expanded his nascent empire to include two grocery stores, a butchery and a restaurant. The ventures grew and gave birth to bottle stores and supermarkets, among other businesses.

In 1979 Mr Maponya secured land in Soweto, on which he intended to build a mall, on a 100-year lease. In 1994, after several attempts, he acquired ownership of the land, bringing his dream a step closer. When the mall was finally opened in 2007, Mr Maponya was 87 years old.

“I never stopped that dream because I knew that one day, one day, the people of Soweto will own what is theirs,” he said in The South African Entrepreneur book, by Sphetho Siyengo. “I was convinced the people really needed a mall… I never stopped”.

In 2010 Mr Maponya established Maponya Motor City, a car-dealership complex, in Orlando East. Former President of South Africa, Kgalema Motlanthe, gave the opening address, calling Mr Maponya’s rags-to-riches story one of tenacity of the human spirit to refuse to give in to impediments subjectively imposed on human life.

Mr Maponya’s story confirms that you can start small and end up making it big. He is an example of an entrepreneur who saw opportunities and followed them through.

In 2007, Mr Maponya was awarded the Order of the Baobab in silver award – the Grand Counselor of the Baobab (GCOB), for his excellent contribution to entrepreneurship despite oppressive apartheid conditions, and for serving as an inspiration to disadvantaged South Africans striving for business success.

Mr Maponya died on Monday, January 6, 2020, at the age of 99.

Courtesy of The South African Entrepreneur by Sphetho Siyengo.

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