Empowering others as she grows is an integral part of how Brand South Africa chairperson Charlotte ‘Chichi’ Maponya does business. And her business is no small task. Maponya is charged with creating a positive and compelling brand image for South Africa, to attract tourism and investment in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
But Maponya does not seem intimidated by the responsibility of marketing the largest economy on the continent. She credits her parents for the person she is today. Her mother, Marina Maponya, is a cousin of former South African president, Nelson Mandela. Maponya recalls that she would often say: “pull as you rise”. And this idea to empower others has stuck with the entrepreneur throughout her life.
In addition to heading up the South African government’s public relations agency, Maponya is the managing dir-ector of the Maponya Group. She is articulate and poised, self-confident and tenacious – qualities that have served her well in her career so far.
They are also qualities that she undoubtedly gets from her father, Richard Maponya. The respected entrepreneur and property developer is widely recognized for building a business empire in spite of the restrictions imposed on black citizens by the Apartheid regime in South Africa. He is behind the first black-owned shopping center in Soweto, which also carries his name, Maponya Mall.
“My father is a man who doesn’t believe in the word no. Bring him the challenges and he will find the solutions, but never tell him that it can’t be done. When he has his mind set on achieving, he will. And this legacy lives on in us, his children.”
Maponya has definitely inherited her father’s self-confidence and his refusal to give up.
“From him I understand that I can use my self-power to break barriers and I believe in the ‘can-do’ spirit. I have grown up with this self-belief and the desire to always do my best,” she says proudly.
Maponya’s mother is also an inspir-ation to her. “My parents shared the same values of wanting to give back to the community,” she says.
Back when it was not common or even fashionable for a black woman to serve on the board of a company, Marina Maponya served on several boards. These include South Africa’s public broadcaster, the SABC, as well as insurance giants WesBank and Southern Life (now part of the MMI Group). Black employees at these companies saw her mother as someone who represented their cause, Maponya explains. They were motivated to sign on for training programs and started being promoted. Although her mother has since passed away, Maponya says she had a “big heart” and will always remember her mother’s belief that everyone had talent; it just needed to be identified and nurtured.
Identifying talent is a big part of Maponya’s role as Brand SA chairperson. She says that South Africa is a brand that represents promise and achievement.
“South Africa is a country that can deliver and doesn’t accept that we can’t just because we are young. We have evolved from a ‘Rainbow Nation’ to being ‘alive with possibilities’ and now we ‘inspire new ways’,” she says, referring to some of the taglines her company uses to promote the country.
South Africa is 19 years into democracy and Maponya is enthusiastic as she lists some of its recent achievements. They include hosting the FIFA World Cup and becoming a member of the Brics group of developing nations in 2010. South Africa joins Brazil,
Russia, India and China as one of the countries that is focusing on industrialization. Brics nations are distinguished by large, fast-growing economies that have significant influence on regional and global affairs. The Brand SA tagline, ‘Inspiring New Ways’ is articulated across various platforms. One of the campaign’s initiatives – ‘Play Your Part’ – highlights the diversity of the country, as communities are encouraged to share personal, inspirational stories, Maponya explains. She is adamant that all South Africans need to be celebrated, and believes that unearthing these stories will help to identify the communities that represent the building blocks of the country. This in turn, she says, leads to a spirit of greater unity and inclusiveness.
“This brings about social cohesion, breaking the barriers that divide us and using dialogue to solve our challenges,” she explains.
Brand SA supports the free-trade movement on the continent. Maponya says intra-African trade in particular is important.
“Africa needs to get a sense of self-reliance. Integration needs to happen across all spheres, cultural and economical. Africa has so many commonalities and so many strengths, with so much embedded in its people. We have a wealth of resources yet untapped,” she says passionately.
And she believes that women have an important role to play. Maponya herself has experience in the mining, communications and retail sectors. She urges women in business to get involved in the debate on how infrastructure development can help grow African economies.
“As a woman-owned business, equip yourself with the skills and knowledge required. You have to be ready to trade in excellence and not just rely on your gender.”
But that does not mean that women who sit around the boardroom table should ignore what she says is their “an innate quality”: nurturing.
“Women are more empathetic; business is not cut and dried. Women want to know what is behind certain actions, certain responses. Women have led families and held them together for years. Now that we are empowered, coupled with education, it just adds up,” Maponya says.
With her astute business sense, Maponya is also an advocate of education. She says it is fundamental for girls to get a decent schooling, as it opens up a world of opportunities.
“Africa and South Africa should strive for a certain level of literacy… Education gives us choice, and for dev-eloping an economy, this is critical.”
One area of business in which Maponya believes women can play an important role is mentoring. Referring to her mother, she emphasizes the importance of an inspirational mentor in the workplace. “We must understand the context as women in the workplace have to deliver in a patriarchal environment, with corporate South Africa not fully embraced in giving opportunities to women. The workplace has become a territorial space. Women have to find and fight their way into an environment already unaccepting, and have to prove their credibility, value and excellence. The more there is openness in the workplace, (the more) women will not see others as a threat,” she says.
“The next generation is lucky, however. They have… more women they can look up to. They must read, have conversations and ask questions.”
When asked how she balances her work and her private life, Maponya laughs: “If you have a formula, please give it to me!
“I think this is a work in progress from month to month. It is definitely an ongoing challenge… When I am not traveling, however, I become a homebody, spending my weekends with my children.” One of her daughters is already working with her at the
Maponya Group, so her parents’ legacy is certainly still alive.
When asked about her own legacy and what she would like to leave behind, Maponya says: “Growing up I used to be so scared of failing. Now I seem to be driven by wanting to make a difference, wanting to create an impact on someone else’s life. I am determined to give greater quality by impacting my community and everything I do. I pull as I rise.”