Dr Sam Motsuenyane: Doyen of black business and an audacious community builder

Dr Sam Motsuenyane will now be remembered as a titan in the realms of business as he passed on peacefully “after a valiant and prolonged battle with illness” on Monday. Photo: Supplied.

Dr Sam Motsuenyane will now be remembered as a titan in the realms of business as he passed on peacefully “after a valiant and prolonged battle with illness” on Monday. Photo: Supplied.

Published May 2, 2024


Dr Samuel Mokgethi Motsuenyane was a towering, larger-than-life figure in the black business community due to his illustrious career and highly coveted accomplishments.

Yet, he remained a humble soul who touched countless lives and empowered many businesspeople as he continued to work long past his retirement age.

Motsuenyane will now be remembered as a titan in the realms of business as he passed on peacefully on Monday “after a valiant and prolonged battle with illness”. He was 97.

The news of his passing were confirmed by the Dr Sam Motsuenyane Foundation on Tuesday morning.

The foundation’s chairman, Prof George Lenyai, said Motsuenyane’s legacy extended far beyond his numerous professional achievements.

“Dr Motsuenyane belongs to the ages; it will be an honour to him if we have learnt from him how to lead for the benefit of the people,” Lenyai said.

Motsuenyane was born on February 11, 1927 in Potchefstroom and was educated at North Carolina State University in the US.

He dedicated all his life to pioneering and promoting entrepreneurship and black business in the townships, even during the dark days of apartheid.

Motsuenyane was the first black extension officer who started a career in agriculture and conservation in the late 1940s.

He was the national secretary and organiser of the African National Soil Conservation Association, an independent black organisation that educated black communities about soil conservation in a bid to eradicate soil erosion in their areas.

In 1964, Motsuenyane was one of the founders of the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce (Nafcoc), one of the largest and best-known African business organisations.

He was the national president of Nafcoc for 24 years, leading the organisation with black business luminaries such as Dr Richard Maponya, Bigvai Masekela and SZ Conco.

Under his tenure, numerous Nafcoc sponsored businesses and companies were formed, including Black Chain, ad the Black African Development and Construction Company, among others.

With only R70 as start-up capital, Motsuenyane led Nafcoc’s decade-long initiative to establish African Bank as they were able to mobilise black communities to contribute toward the R1 million required to help raise capital for the bank in order for it to open its first branch in Ga-Rankuwa in 1975.

He was chairman of African Bank for 20 years.

African Bank chairman Thabo Dloti on Tuesday said Motsuenyane’s story remained a source of inspiration.

Dloti said that the success of black business today owed much to the resolute groundwork of pioneers such as Motsuenyane.

“The story of how Dr Motsuenyane helped to establish South Africa’s first black bank should serve as an inspiration for many generations to come,” Dloti said.

“The audacity he displayed in defying the odds and giving agency to our people demonstrates his profound capacity for leadership, innovation, and empathy.

“The example he set compels us to commit ourselves to making a tangible difference in our society. South Africa has lost a great man.”

Motsuenyane retired from Nafcoc in 1992 and served on several special commissions such as the Melamet Commission on the Remuneration of Politicians (1994), and the King Committee on Corporate Governance (1993-94).

He also led the ANC-appointed Motsuenyane Commission into the violation of human rights at camps for SA exiles in neighbouring African countries.

Motsuenyane then joined Parliament where he was appointed leader of the House of Senate and, later, became the first ambassador to Saudi Arabia, from 1996 to 2000.

He was also accredited as an ambassador to Oman, Yemen, Kuwait and Bahrain.

Motsuenyane’s autobiography published in 2011 – A Testament of Hope – is an uplifting and inspiring story about one man's dream to succeed and achieve, despite severe political and socio-economic obstacles.

Black Business Council CEO Kganki Matabane on Tuesday described him as a pioneer in promoting entrepreneurship and black business in the township during the dark days of apartheid.

“Very few could be compared to him. His passing as the country celebrates 30 years of democracy marks the closure of a chapter of the gallant pioneers of a bygone era,” Matabane said.

But even after retirement, Motsuenyane’s passion for community development and agricultural innovation never waned.

In 2002, he founded the “Winterveld United Farmers Association”, a transformative initiative that empowered 145 plot owners through a citrus farm project.

In 2022, he was elected president of the Free Market Foundation (FMF) but ensured that he groomed the next generation of leadership for the organisation.

FMF director Temba Nolutshungu on Tuesday said Motsuenyane stepped into a new role, that of Honorary Life Vice-President, saying he wanted to leave the role of president for someone younger and more active.

“Dr Motsuenyane spent most of his adult life deeply involved in the Struggle to liberate the black community in South Africa from political and economic oppression,” Nolutshungu said.

“He brings to mind the words of Nan Witcomb: ‘We do not have to rely on memories to recapture the spirit of those we loved and lost – they live within our souls in some perfect sanctuary which even death cannot destroy’.”

Dr Motsuenyane is survived by his wife, Joyce, his children, and grandchildren.