Richard Maponya, Kaizer Chiefs must inspire us

It is a week of mixed feelings for our country, especially its black majority.

On the one hand it is a week of sadness, following the news of the passing of one of the greatests of Sowetans, Richard Maponya.

On the other hand, the week marks the beginning of year-long celebrations for Kaizer Chiefs - the Sowetan club that was born 50 years ago and grew to become one of the most successful brands within and outside South Africa's borders.

At 99, Maponya had lived a full and exemplary life. He will be remembered for his tenacious spirit, which helped him become a successful entrepreneur and business leader at a time when the apartheid system sought to exclude black people from meaningful economic participation.

He was a revolutionary, a freedom fighter in his own way. Although not armed with an AK-47 or leading a workers' strike in a mine somewhere, his very success in business served to expose the Verwoerdian lie that all black people were good for was to be hewers of wood and drawers of water.

His fighting spirit, which saw him build a business empire and help to create the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Nafcoc), inspired many black entrepreneurs in Soweto and the rest of black South Africa.

One of those must have been Kaizer Motaung, the brilliant soccer player who returned from the US to establish his own club, Kaizer Chiefs in 1970.

Under trying conditions for black business people, Motaung was able to build Chiefs into a household name - in the process helping to turn the local soccer game into the thriving industry it is today.

Perhaps it is fitting, then, that Maponya left us just a day before Amakhosi's 50th birthday.

It is a message, maybe, that we should not be mourning his passing but should be celebrating his achievements and how those inspired a generation of entrepreneurs like Motaung to charge ahead in spite of apartheid.

His life story, and that of Chiefs, should now inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs to use the opportunities provided by freedom to build new, stronger and bigger black companies.

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