Richard Maponya
Richard Maponya

Richard Maponya

(Photo : Business News)


15 - 17 April 2011

Most of us get a touch coy about our age as time takes its toll, but there’s no place to hide for those who reside in the “public property” realm. One such man paid us a visit yesterday, at the Emperors Palace National Yearling Sales.

The first black man in South Africa’s history to be awarded his racing colours, was Richard Maponya, struggle icon, entrepreneur, character extraordinaire. Born in 1920 (and a still spritely 90 year old), Richard trained as a school teacher in Limpopo province, and migrated to Alexandra township in Johannesburg in the 1940’s. In time, he graduated to the retail trade and Richard’s enterprise and knack in the business soon saw his white superior promoted to the CEO’s job in the group. Mr. Bolton by name, Richard acknowledges his mentor as the catalyst that gave him the courage to dream, and planted the seed that sprouted his entrepreneurial verve. Let’s not forget, this was the 50’s, deep in the apartheid era, a time when black people in the metropolitan areas were seen as non-citizens; migrants without the right to own land or business licences.

And so followed years of frustration, a stifling time when the dynaminism that was later to shape the life of one of our most successful businessmen, was suppressed in the morass of our political shame. Not for him though, the kicking of heels. His solicitors were none other than Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela, with whom Richard Maponya shared a long and enduring personal and professional relationship.

“You always had the impression that Nelson could shift the earth, but even he could’t lift the veil on a trading licence.”

In the end, Richard spotted a gap in the Soweto milk market, the first man to deliver to the doorsteps of a community who never knew such luxury. Soon there were 100 bicycles on the beat, and so was born the greatest story of entrepreneurial achievement in Sowetan folklore, and the development of its first major shopping complex, Maponya Mall. Right now, at 90 nogal, he is developing the first Maponya Motor City in Soweto, and one of his anchor tenants, is none other than Mooi River’s Vusi Khanyile, CEO of Thebe Investments, with a BMW franchise.

As he entered the Summerhill visitors’ complex at “Block A”, Richard remembered that it was Mary Slack’s father, Harry Oppenheimer that first proposed him for his colours. Such were the times we lived in though, that despite his proposer, the most celebrated businessman of his era, Richard’s colours were delayed five years, ostensibly on the basis of whether he could afford to keep a racehorse.

Soon he had 65 in training, with four trainers in different localities, and a menagerie of broodmares tossed in.

Now he’s back at 90! With a bigger desire to own a “July” winner than ever. While time’s obviously at premium at his point of maturity, there’s no knowing with Richard Maponya. As he said, when he addressed the Summerhill staff, “somewhere among you is the next millionaire, or the next great farm manager” and with the School of Excellence opening next month, the old boy could just be onto another hunch. Hopespringseternal.