Local businessman Dr Richard John Pelwana Maponya died early on Monday morning after a short illness.
He was 99 years old and was the founder of the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce (Nafcoc) in 1964 and later the founder and chairman of the African Chamber of Commerce.
The Limpopo-born entrepreneur, often referred to as “the father of black retail”, co-developed Soweto’s Maponya Mall in 2007.
Family spokesperson Mandla Sibeko confirmed the news.
He was born in Thlabine, near Lenyenye, about 20km west of Tzaneen.
At the age of 24, when still a teacher, he took a job as a stock taker at a clothing maker and won a promotion for both himself and his white manager. In gratitude, the manager sold Maponya soiled clothing and offcuts, which he resold in Soweto.
With the capital, he attempted to open a clothing store in Soweto, but was blocked by the apartheid government’s refusal to grant him a licence – he was represented in the dispute by Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela.
Instead, in the early 1950s, Maponya and his wife Marina (a cousin of Nelson Mandela) established the Dube Hygienic Dairy, which employed a fleet of 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.
During the 1960s and 1970s Maponya was a member of the Urban Bantu Council. He resigned in 1977, shortly after youth affiliated with the ANC requested that he do so, and shortly before the council offices were burnt to the ground.
(Compiled by Nica Schreuder)