Johannesburg - Renowned businessman Richard Maponya, who died on Monday aged 99 after a short illness, was a shining beacon of light for black business during apartheid, the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SACCI) said.
A family confirmed the death of Maponya, who defied the restrictions of decades-long white apartheid rule to build a business empire, culminating in the opening of the Maponya mall in the sprawling Soweto township in 2007 which boasts more than 200 stores and a cinema complex.
In a statement, SACCI said Maponya was not only an activist, but a visionary and innovative leader in business and South African society in general.
"His achievements are incomparable, given the huge obstacles he had to overcome and endure in building his business dynasty," the chamber said.
"There can never be enough words to pay tribute to this legend, who against the most difficult challenges and odds, rose to be a shining beacon of light for black business in the apartheid days and continued to make a massive contribution to the broader business community in post-apartheid South Africa."
Earlier, President Cyril Ramaphosa also lauded Maponya, who passed away just a few days after his 99th birthday, as a trailblazer who paved the way for the racial transformation of South Africa's economy.
“Dr Maponya’s life is a testament to resilience, determination and the power of vision: namely to see black business grow to assume its full role as the key participant and driver of our economy," Ramaphosa said.
Maponya family spokesman Mandla Sibeko said funeral arrangements would be announced in due course and asked for privacy.
Sibeko said Maponya's death was a shock to the family as he was "the kind of man who was working every day and he was still working at 99-years-old".
Originally a teacher, Maponya’s business career spanned over half a century and began in the retail sector in the 1950s when he and his wife Marina opened a milk distribution company in Soweto, later expanding to include interests in the automotive sector, petrol stations and property development.
“He was of that rare breed of entrepreneurs who would not be held back or become disheartened by difficult operating conditions – in fact, having obstacles put in his path drove him even further to succeed,” Ramaphosa said.
"He understood that to get to the top, one has to begin at the very bottom. He began his career as a stock taker, and today, over 50 years later, the Maponya Mall in Soweto stands as a towering symbol of perseverance and achievement."
He said Maponya, a founding member of the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce, actively sought to help nascent black businesses and lent his support to entrepreneurship ventures, particularly in Soweto.
"The Maponya name is a veritable institution in our public life, standing for excellence and inspiring generations of South Africans," said the president.
"He has left behind a towering legacy, and I call on businessmen and businesswomen to take up the baton and see fulfilled his long-nurtured dream to open a youth entrepreneurship academy.”