At certain points in human history, individuals emerge who teach us the power of dreams. They believe so profoundly in pursuing a dream, and they pursue it with such tenacity and success, that we begin to believe with them. They inspire hope and rekindle light, even in the midst of great darkness.

In my life, I have had the rare good fortune of knowing a handful of individuals of this kind. Dr Pixley ka Isaka Seme was one; as was Madiba, and Inkosi Albert Luthuli. But great dreamers are not confined to politics. The most visionary individual I ever met was a businessman. He inspired me, as he inspired many. His name will be remembered among the icons of our nation. Dr Richard Maponya was a giant.

I feel a deep sense of loss as I speak about my friend. When his children asked that I speak this morning, I knew that this would be a difficult task. Although I have spoken at many funerals, and although I have lost many friends, I feel the burden of doing justice to Dr Maponya’s memory. He deserves to be honoured.

His family, moreover, deserves to hear how much we all admired Dr Maponya. It is in the sharing of stories and the telling of anecdotes that we find comfort. Grief is a tricky business. It is possible to laugh at a remembrance, and feel the fullness of joy, even as the heart is overwhelmed with sorrow. Emotion is right on the surface, for our souls are raw.

As someone who has experienced loss many times, I want to encourage my late friend’s children and all his family. The valley of the shadow of death is not permanent. Your hope will rise again. I pray, at this most difficult point – as we say farewell – that the Lord Himself will comfort you. He is indeed the great healer.

Visionary individuals tend to recognise one another, and often great friendships ensue. Dr Maponya, like me, was a lifelong friend of Nelson Mandela. Like me, as well, Dr Maponya was a staunch member of the liberation movement. He supported the struggle for freedom, and he supported me in the path I chose to pursue our liberation when I founded Inkatha.

I remember many rallies I held in Soweto which Dr Maponya attended. This was at the height of the vilification campaign that was waged against me. At that time, many abandoned their open support for me. But Dr Richard Maponya remained as a friend and a patriot. He cared about our country deeply and he believed that we each had to play the role history had cast upon us to secure our shared freedom.

Dr Maponya cared about politics. But politics was never his first love. His passion was for business and that is where he truly excelled. The legacy he created is visible as one travels through Soweto. The evidence of Dr Maponya is everywhere, not only in the buildings and infrastructure, but in the spirit of entrepreneurship which he birthed.

To say that he was successful is to downplay his achievements. It is one thing to take advantage of opportunities, but it is quite another to create opportunities where there are none. Dr Maponya was born into a world in which many doors were closed and many faces unfriendly. He did not have anything handed to him. Yet despite apartheid, despite hardship, despite the lack of support, resources or opportunity, he pulled himself up and became a pioneer of black entrepreneurship.

He showed us what can be achieved if we set our minds to it and are prepared to put in long hours, hard work and consistent effort. He taught us how to pursue a dream.

I cannot speak about my friend’s success without speaking about his late wife, Mrs Marina Maponya. She was a businesswoman, and successful in her own right. When she passed away, I think many expected that Dr Maponya would be discouraged. I myself quietly feared that he would stop pursuing his dreams. I know what it is to have a beloved wife who is one’s equal in every way. Life seems impossible once they are gone. I was therefore pleased when I saw Dr Maponya press on and continue to create success.

I must say, Marina was a wonderful woman. I remember how, in the sixties, she traveled all the way to my home at KwaPhindangene to invite me to be the guest of honour at a ball they were holding for young Sowetans. She was committed to the upliftment of young people. In this, as in everything else, she was a good match for her husband. She had no fear of hard work.

Dr Maponya, of course, loved to work, and he worked right into the twilight of his life. When we both became octogenarians, and we both continued to pursue our passion, I think we understood each other better than ever. When I became a nonagenarian, in 2018, Dr Maponya paid me the greatest compliment by travelling all the way to Durban to propose a toast at my birthday celebrations.

I was deeply honoured. Looking back now, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to express my admiration for Dr Maponya in his presence. When the Durban University of Technology honoured him as he deserved, he insisted to the Vice Chancellor that I be invited, as he wanted me to be present to share that moment with him. It was a
mark of our long friendship.

I took the opportunity to pay tribute to him, to laud the great heights he had reached and to thank him for inspiring us all. In years to come, when youths seek to understand the nature of the man, they need only look to his legacy. His achievements, in spite of the oppression we lived under, are testimony to the attributes of his spirit. Quite simply, he did wonders.

Standing in the bright light of success, it is not uncommon to forget where one comes from. But that was never the case for Dr Richard Maponya. His social conscience was ever present. He wanted to develop our youth, to develop entrepreneurship, to develop leadership. He became a champion of both dreamers and doers. He led by example.

His life is now a reminder that poverty can be overcome and race is not a defining factor. His passing is a reminder that our time is finite. If we have a dream, we must chase it now. It cannot wait for tomorrow. Dreams are there to be pursued.

Several years ago, Time magazine honoured the great entrepreneur Dr Richard Maponya with these words, “He has spent his life subverting the established narrative.” How true that is of the man I knew and the man I called my friend.

It is with tremendous sadness that I say farewell to a South African giant. May his children, his family and his friends be comforted. May his admirers mourn this loss. And may Dr Richard Maponya rest in eternal peace.