How Richard Maponya rose to be a business mogul: See money differently

Ujuh Correspondent

A video clip retelling the story of how Richard Maponya started his business empire during the apartheid era lands into a powerful narrative that goes far beyond what the sponsor of the video, Nedbank, may have been hoping for. It serves to redefine the prevailing Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) paradigm.

In a campaign titled “See money differently” Nedbank has lined up a couple of moving stories that illustrate the practical value of money. The Maponya story is told in a three minute clip that is set in the 1950’s. It shows a young Maponya pouncing on a fresh milk distribution gap in Sophiatown.

With seed capital of only R20.00, Maponya, gathers a group of boys, gives them bicycles to distribute fresh milk, door to door. He conquers the market. The rest is history. Defying apartheid repression, Maponya grew to become one of the most successful businessmen in the country. His name is engraved as a tilted of a R500 million retail development in Soweto called Maponya Mall.

We must say: Bravo to Nedbank in contributing to breaking the narrative that equates money making skills to whiteness. It is a critical intervention that goes into killing the narrative which suggests that black people are strangers in the game of making money. The truth is far from that.

There is plenty of evidence which actually shows that early black entrepreneurs, from the 1800s, were equally capable if not slicker than their white counterparts. Their stories are wonderfully told in seminal academic pieces like Colin Bundy’s The Rise and fall of the South African peasantry, Jeff Peires’ House of Pallo and The Dead will arise and Andre Odendaal’s The Founders.

We need more of these stories. We will bring them to you.

We do this because we think that South Africa suffers from a dangerous memory gap in and around the abilities of black people to create commercial value. In simple terms, the country’s collective memory has simply deleted the many files of black entrepreneurship which was able to find gaps where there should have been none and long before the 1994 big bang BEE narrative.

In his seminal piece which was published in a book titled: Visions of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), Eric Mafuna submitted a telling observation. “In many approaches that are directed at facilitating the [re]entry of black people into business, there is a failure to acknowledge the [past] business achievements of black people. BEE is conceived in a manner that suggests that black people have had no involvement in business other than as workers”

This must stop.

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