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Father & Fire



Richard Maponya was trained as a teacher that never taught but he has enough students in business to fill a stadium. In the 1950s, a young Maponya did everything, from selling clothes door-to-door, meat to butchers, BMWs and property to the wise and wealthy. He endured oppressive apartheid laws and was shunned at every turn. Despite this, he has built an empire that is an inspiration to budding entrepreneurs.

In his retirement, Maponya, 88, still finds time to do business on his computer in the comfort of his home in Hyde Park, a suburb north of Johannesburg. In this winter’s afternoon, we met him settled in his study suited and booted. Around him, myriad photographs with prominent people, from Nelson Mandela to Richard Branson, tell his story. Amid these pictures are the Order of the Baobab, an honor from government for his contribution to entrepreneurship and the economy.

It is some minutes before Chichi walks in, for the father and daughter catch-up, from a meeting with a Nigerian delegation for Brand South Africa.

Together, they reminisce about their struggles from a small shop in Dube, Soweto, to what is today the Maponya Group.

“People often remarked that this girl Chichi, had she been a boy, she would be just like me. But I don’t see a difference… I am very happy with her personal development. It is so pleasing when a parent sees a child stepping into her father’s or mother’s field when one is still alive. I am witnessing what Chichi is doing, representing South Africa. She’s now an asset of a nation,” says Maponya.

Maponya’s remarks go down well with his devoted daughter.

“She was a very humble and loving child when she was growing up. I knew there was something in her because she would do things that reflected some intelligence in her. I knew then she was going to be somebody. Now the evidence is before us. We can see what she has become,” says Maponya.

Chichi beams, hearing this. She could have been 12 again.

“I thank the foundation my parents made not only for me but for every South African. So many black people looked at my dad and said, wow, if he could start from such humble beginnings and make such an impact in the economy and their communities under such harsh and difficult conditions. And here I am, I have better opportunities now and there’s access to capital. Why would I want to fail? So a black child looks at it in that perspective. And then you have a different narrative. There are white people who say he’s such an inspiration because against those odds, being a black person, having everything against you, and you succeed. What would stop me as a white South African with everything going for me, not to succeed? Either side sees this as our South African legacy. We dare not fail,” says Chichi.

Maponya interjects to instruct Chichi to fetch a printout of an email on a mahogany desk.

“Absolutely, on that point, can you read this to prove what you just said?” he says.

“Dear Dr Maponya, I trust all is well. I am a big follower of you and respect you greatly. You are my role model and it would be a great honor to meet with you and help us and advise us in business. It would be a dream come true to meet with you in person and listen to how you started and where you are right now. Myself and my son have a fairly new business…,” reads the email.

Maponya says these frequent messages keep him going.

“For people to recognize what I have achieved during the difficult times in South Africa, I am humbled. During apartheid, black people were not meant to be businessmen. When I first came to Johannesburg, I wanted to be a businessman. But white government said no, you are here to sell your labor, if you want to be a businessman, you must go back to your homeland,” says Maponya.

Maponya acknowledged the influence of the Brazilians. He took Chichi with him to Brazil, in 2010, for business. Brazil once had an unemployment rate of 40%. Within 10 years, the country managed to reduce the number to 5%, he says.

Maponya sent Chichi to meetings when she was still at school.

“I was very fortunate to be mentored, the word mentoring didn’t exist at the time but when I reflect now I realize that was mentoring. Being taken under the wing, with my mom, we sat down and did books; going to meetings and negotiating business on behalf of family. That was mentoring,” says Chichi.

With Chichi in the driver’s seat, the Maponya legacy is guaranteed to live on. Like her father, Chichi has roped in her daughter Palesa Mabuse. Palesa is managing Chichi’s side business in outdoor media called Nalesa Media. Chichi also has Maponya Medical Solutions, which supplies medical equipment to hospitals.

“When you look at our history, there are not too many South African black businesses that succeeded the second generation. Most of them die with the founders. There’s that responsibility in me now that says I need to change the curve. I need to make sure that in my own little space, what was taught to me by my parents, I am able to pass on to my children. Hence when my daughter showed interest to work with me, I embraced it. I am nurturing her,” says Chichi.

“That was my teaching. When they went to school I would ask what other children carry at school. If they say it’s 20 cents, I would give her 20 cents. When she asked for more, I would say alright, when you come back you must come to the store and earn it. There was never money for nothing,” says the older Maponya.

After obtaining a BCom degree in economics management and marketing from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Chichi worked in a project management company; Black Like Me; South African Institute of Civil Engineering (SAICE) and Kwezi Asset Management, for more than a decade. She then returned to work with her father and their first project was Maponya Mall, her father’s holy grail, valued at R650 million ($52 million).

“When I finished my tenure at Kwezi, I went back to my dad and said I am back now. I had known they had always wanted to build a mall but they had not succeeded in doing it. I said let’s start now. You are the brains, you are the experience. Here is the fire now,” she says.

It took Maponya almost three decades and a string of lawsuits to carve out the first shopping mall in bustling Soweto, a township south of Johannesburg. In 2007, the former President Nelson Mandela launched the mall.

“I always knew that I will go back and work in the family business and take over and run it. I worked in the family business since I was in school. I would come from school and do my homework, go to the shop and the garage…

I left the comfort and the cocoon of the family business. Papa and Mama were very strict. I guess they were trying to protect us from being complacent,” says Chichi.

Maponya Mall has caught the attention of investors abroad.

“This last week I entertained a Venda chief. They say to me please, come and build a Maponya Mall in Venda. The same plea came from South Sudan, Ghana and Nigeria,”

says Maponya.

Beside family business, Chichi is leveraging her name with Brand South Africa on the continent. In 2012, she was appointed chairperson of Brand South Africa after she served as a trustee since 2009. The tenure will run until March. In 2008, she was voted ‘woman of the year’ by the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa.

“In 2009, when we were appointed, Brand South Africa didn’t have a domestic mandate. So the domestic mandate was established that year. We changed the name from International Marketing Council to the current name. One of the attributes of a brand is its people, especially when it’s a national brand,” says Chichi.

They have a huge mandate, therefore, it calls for collaborations with other government departments and private sector to get the work done, she says.

Chichi is concerned that the attacks on foreign nationals in the country can taint relations with other nationalities. But she says these are isolated incidents that could be challenged by creating employment for the youth.

“In adversity, we rise stronger and more united. This has unified us as African people. It has brought us so close together. When you look at migration across the continent, people are looking for better opportunities and prospects… We don’t have Africa that’s in crisis. We don’t have Africa that is in war. Gone are those days. Africa is moving forward,” says Chichi.

Father and the fire – no one can ever put them out.

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Green-Sky Thinking



In Johannesburg, city-dwellers like Linah Moeketsi have taken the future of sustainable farming into their own hands. Where land is becoming scarce, they look to the skies.

Doornfontein is one of Johannesburg’s older inner-city suburbs with decaying buildings and dingy alleys that wear a dour, monochrome look.

Daily commuters and street surfers jostle with delivery vans and mountains of metal scrap but the grey of the concrete city makes it hard to believe that there could be a patch of green in a most unlikely location.

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Above the humdrum of life here is a rooftop hydroponics farm looking down on the city, but upwards to a new route to restoration and urban preservation.

Atop the eight-floor Stanop building – offering a breath-taking view of the city and the landmark Ponte Towers in the distance – one woman has made it her mission to turn a grimy grey terrace into a green lung on the city’s skyline.

“City life is taking on a totally new direction… even people who think they couldn’t one day farm, find themselves on rooftops,” Linah Moeketsi tells FORBES AFRICA.

Moeketsi grows herbs, used to treat non-communicable diseases (NCDs), in a 250m x 500m greenhouse on the building’s terrace. But her rooftop farm is sans any soil – it uses a hydroponics system.

“I think because we are in the city and we would like to produce for people in the city, hydroponic farming is one of the answers because you can actually harvest more than twice the produce, and the growth rate is quicker and there is produce that you can have throughout the year that people demand because it is in a controlled environment,” she says.

On a windy Wednesday morning in October, we meet Moeketsi at her aerial green facility, a couple of days before she is to send some of her plant produce to the market.

She talks about her journey as an offbeat farmer. It all started when her father fell ill in 2013, when doctors failed to correctly diagnose his disease.

“They couldn’t see that he was diabetic. He didn’t show the signs of diabetes, but he had this foot ulcer that just wouldn’t go away,” she says.

“The future of city farming is great simply because we have more and more young people getting into this space. Even though it’s farming, they are looking at it from a very different angle.

Moeketsi decided to do her own research, so she read up books on African medicinal plants and used some herbs that belonged to her late mother, who had been a traditional healer.

“It took me a good eight months to help my dad and I actually saved him from having an amputation.”

The news of Moeketsi curing her dad’s diabetes using herbs spread. Sadly, her father died in 2016, at the age of 87. But she is proud to have helped prolong his life.

“So he passed away in his sleep, not sick, nothing, he was just old. But he was always grateful; he was like, ‘even when I die, I’m going to die with both my limbs’, so we would make a joke about it.”

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After her father’s demise, Moeketsi rented some land and turned her knowledge on natural herbs into a fully-fledged farm. However, when the owner of the land returned, she was forced to vacate.

Land was always going to be a problem in the city. But instead of giving up, Moeketsi looked to the skies.

“Because of this passionate drive for an answer, I found myself researching what’s happening outside Gauteng and South Africa, and I saw in Europe, they were farming on rooftops,” she says.

In 2017, her dream became a reality when she secured a deal with the City of Johannesburg as part of an urban farming program, and started the rooftop project a year later.

When we visit her greenhouse, we are welcomed by the sweet lingering scent of herbs. It’s hot and humid, and two fans whir away to cool the air.

Moeketsi walks around the greenhouse wearing dark glasses and a white jacket, with a syringe in hand – she could easily pass off as a medical doctor.

She elaborates on the hydroponics system. There are four pyramids, each attached to their own reservoirs of water. On each pyramid, different plants, ranging from spinach, lettuce, sage, parsley, basil and dill, rest on beds with pipes connecting them to the reservoirs. Moeketsi plucks out one of the pipes and inserts the syringe; water spouts out of the tube and she returns it to the bed.

“Twice a day, you have to check that water is actually going through the pipes, because that’s how the plants get water and nutrients,” she explains, as she unblocks a pipe using the syringe. She says it’s one of the best ways to farm using little water.

“When you put in certain plants in the greenhouse, you know you are guaranteed sustainable farming because you can produce those plants and harvest them,” she says.

Moeketsi adds that this allows her produce to stay consistent season after season.

“So, from that point of view, it makes the city more sustainable in terms of food produce that is easily accessible and cost-effective for the consumer because not everyone around here can afford the high prices of food but they can at least afford what we sell, whether it is at R10 ($0.5) or R15 ($1).”

As Moekesti continues to tend to the plants, a farmer she works with walks in and begins filling up the reservoirs.

Lethabo Madela has known Moekesti for almost six years.

“When you look around Johannesburg, there is no space, so rooftops have saved us a lot, especially those of us that love farming,” says Madela. “I’m learning a lot and I think she [Moekesti] changed the whole concept of farming for me because I used to farm vegetables. I didn’t know culinary herbs or medicinal herbs.”

Moeketsi speaks of other farmers around the city who have taken to the rooftops to farm plants such as strawberries, lemon balm, spinach and lettuce.

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In a suburb called Marshalltown, a 10-minute drive from Moeketsi’s farm, Kagiso Seleka farms lemon balm also using hydroponics.

He produces sorbet and pesto from his produce which is then used to make ice cream.

“It [hydroponics] is great for farming sensitive plants in terms of temperature. Lemon balm does not like frost. But it’s better to grow even out of season so you can set a higher price,” he tells us.

However, he says hydroponics farming is a luxury not many farmers can afford.

“It [hydroponics] does have a bit of a higher capital upfront, but you get a higher yield and higher quality, so people are willing to pay more. Hydroponic planting saves about ninety five percent of water soil farming in a water-scarce country,” says Seleka.

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“We do have water shortages, and I know people are on the whole ‘organic trip’ but, is it more important to have an organic plant versus a water-saving environment?”

The Program Coordinator for Agriculture at the City of Johannesburg’s Food Resilience Unit, Lindani Sandile Makhanya, says there certainly are more rooftop farmers in Johannesburg now than ever before.

Converting idle terraces into avenues of profit is becoming a norm. There are new rooftop farms being set up every day, offers Makhanya.

He regularly visits Moeketsi’s farm to check on the progress and collect produce to sell.

“Urban farming in Johannesburg is rising, mainly because the idea of producing our own food is very important because most people are moving to urban areas and therefore it stands to reason that we have to try to produce as much as possible,” says Makhanya.

“[There is growth] even in animal production, although we are moving away from the bigger numbers, but we are involving the smaller ones; because of the space issue, they are increasing overall.”

For Moeketsi, her farm has changed her life and given her hope for a better future. In addition to the teas, tinctures, ointments and medicinal products she processes from her plants, she plans to include more by-products such as syrups in the future.

“The future of city farming is great simply because we have more and more young people getting into this space. Even though it’s farming, they are looking at it from a very different angle,” she says. “That is why the city is changing and rooftop farming is going to get bigger and bigger.”

Clearly, farming in Africa is covering exciting new ground.

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30 under 30

Applications Open for FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 class of 2020



FORBES AFRICA is on the hunt for Africans under the age of 30, who are building brands, creating jobs and transforming the continent, to join our Under 30 community for 2020.

JOHANNESBURG, 07 January 2020: Attention entrepreneurs, creatives, sport stars and technology geeks — the 2020 FORBES AFRICA Under 30 nominations are now officially open.

The FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list is the most-anticipated list of game-changers on the continent and this year, we are on the hunt for 30 of Africa’s brightest achievers under the age of 30 spanning these categories: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport.

Each year, FORBES AFRICA looks for resilient self-starters, innovators, entrepreneurs and disruptors who have the acumen to stay the course in their chosen field, come what may.

Past honorees include Sho Madjozi, Bruce Diale, Karabo Poppy, Kwesta, Nomzamo Mbatha, Burna Boy, Nthabiseng Mosia, Busi Mkhumbuzi Pooe, Henrich Akomolafe, Davido, Yemi Alade, Vere Shaba, Nasty C and WizKid.

What’s different this year is that we have whittled down the list to just 30 finalists, making the competition stiff and the vetting process even more rigorous. 

Says FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil: “The start of a new decade means the unraveling of fresh talent on the African continent. I can’t wait to see the potential billionaires who will land up on our desks. Our coveted sixth annual Under 30 list will herald some of the decade’s biggest names in business and life.”

If you think you have what it takes to be on this year’s list or know an entrepreneur, creative, technology entrepreneur or sports star under 30 with a proven track-record on the continent – introduce them to FORBES AFRICA by applying or submitting your nomination.


Business and Technology categories

  1. Must be an entrepreneur/founder aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Should have a legitimate REGISTERED business on the continent
  3. Business/businesses should be two years or older
  4. Nominees must have risked own money and have a social impact
  5. Must be profit generating
  6. Must employ people in Africa
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Sports category

  1. Must be a sports person aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be representing an African team
  3. Should have a proven track record of no less than two years
  4. Should be making significant earnings
  5. Should have some endorsement deals
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Creatives category

  1. Must be a creative aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be from or based in Africa
  3. Should be making significant earnings
  4. Should have a proven creative record of no less than two years
  5. Must have social influence
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Your entry should include:

  • Country
  • Full Names
  • Company name/Team you are applying with
  • A short motivation on why you should be on the list
  • A short profile on self and company
  • Links to published material / news clippings about nominee
  • All social media handles
  • Contact information
  • High-res images of yourself

Applications and nominations must be sent via email to FORBES AFRICA journalist and curator of the list, Karen Mwendera, on [email protected]

Nominations close on 3 February 2020.

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The Life And Wisdom Of Richard Maponya



He was one of the big names in business in Africa; as gentlemanly. as he was shrewd. He fought the odds and apartheid to stake his place in business and inspire millions of his countrymen to do the same.

Richard Maponya – the doyen of black business in South Africa – passed away in the early hours of January 6, after a short illness. Maponya turned 99 on Christmas Eve near the end of a long and fruitful life that saw him dine with the Queen, laugh with Bill Clinton and chauffer his old friend Nelson Mandela. Mandela asked Maponya, who owned a car dealership, to pick him up at the airport in Johannesburg after his release from prison in 1990.

Ï picked him up at the airport and that was the most frightening time of my life. We were chased by people on foot, helicopters, motorbikes and cars. Everyone just wanted to touch Mandela. They could kill him just trying to touch him,” Maponya recalled to Forbes Africa in a cover story in March 2017.   

Mandela was a close friend of Maponya since the 1950s. The future president, then a young lawyer   helped Maponya set up his first business against the restrictive apartheid laws that shackled black business.

Maponya wanted to open a clothing store in Soweto, Johannesburg; the authorities said no. Mandela lost the fight for the clothing store, but did manage to secure him a license to trade daily necessities. This opened the way for Maponya to start out with a milk delivery business that was to prove the foundation of his fortune.

More than half a century on, Mandela, then a former president of South Africa, beamed with pride, in 2007, as he opened the first shopping mall in Soweto.

Maponya Mall had taken the canny businessman a good deal of patience to put together. He acquired the land in 1979 – the first black man to secure a 100-year lease for land in Soweto – and spent many more years building up the mall.

“Ï fought for 27 years for that mall and was many times denied; they actually thought I was dreaming. When Nelson Mandela cut the ribbon to open the mall, that was the highlight of my life,” Maponya said years later.

It was a mile on a road less travelled by Maponya in a long journey from the tiny township of Lenyenye in Limpopo in northern South Africa where he was born. He moved across the province to Polokwane to train as a teacher and then, like many young men of his generation, moved south to Johannesburg in search of his fortune.

In those days, the gold mining city was booming, but only the few saw the fruits. Maponya was blocked at every turn as he tried to make his way in business; he won through making a fortune from property, horse racing, retail, cars and liquor.

Maponya mentored many black entrepreneurs and inspired many millions more he had never met. One of them was Herman Mashaba, the former mayor of Johannesburg, who made his own fortune with hair care products.

“To myself and the people I grew up with he was an inspiration to all of us to get into business…If he had started out in business in a normal world there is no doubt he would have been even bigger than he was,” Mashaba told CNBC Africa.

Maponya will be mourned by the millions who were inspired to follow him and by a business world that is richer, in more ways than one, for his nearly a century of hard work in which retirement was never an option.

“People who retire are lazy people. You retire and do what? Bask in the sun?  I am not that type of man,” he said in 2017 at the age of 96.

He could never be.

By Chris Bishop  

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