A pioneer and icon of black business in SA

Isaac Moledi

Isaac Moledi

"I have achieved almost everything I dreamt of, but I told myself that I could only rest after fulfilling my dream of buying Sowetan."

These were the words that stunned Sowetan staff in 1995 when one of South Africa's loved business icons, Nthato Motlana, announced the takeover of the country's biggest daily newspaper.

Yesterday, on World Aids Day, the country started mourning the loss of this giant anti-apartheid activist and one of the great icons of black business.

He died on Sunday night at his Johannesburg home after a long battle with cancer, the Nelson Mandela Foundation said yesterday.

Motlana's passion for business is well documented.

He has a portfolio of ventures ranging from the manufacture of children's clothing to the establishment of Soweto's first black-owned and controlled private clinic and medical aid scheme.

He scowled at the notion that his rise up the corporate ladder was purely a function of "affirmative action" by such white-owned corporations as the Argus group.

Nevertheless, it was the Argus's decision in 1993 to liberate Sowetan from its bundle that finally fulfilled a long-standing business and personal dream for Motlana.

He recalled opening his first grocery shop in Mofolo, Soweto, in 1970.

"I was constantly being arrested by the police for my political work.

"So I opened the shop so that my family would not struggle when I was detained."

In the late 1970s, he led a group of doctors to form the first black-owned chemicals company, Africhem.

Then he became instrumental in the formation of Phaphama Africa, which manufactured uniforms for soldiers and school kids.

He served on the boards of many companies, including Putco, Rand Water Board, Adcock Ingram and Sasol.