Matome Maponya

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First name: 
Last name: 
Date of birth: 
14 May 1949
Location of birth: 
Thabakgone village of Lephapane in the district of Tzaneen
Date of death: 
9 August 2004
Location of death: 

Matome Maponya was born on May 14 1949 in the Thabakgone village of Lephapane in the district of Tzaneen, where his parents eked out an existence on their small rural homestead. At school, where one of his classmates was the future Gauteng premier Dr Mathole Motshekga - he showed an early flair for business. Although extraordinarily bright academically, and particularly good at maths, Maponya was less interested in lessons than in pursuing his various entrepreneurial activities. By the age of 13 he was doing a roaring trade, buying and selling sweets and useful knick-knacks, such as combs, to his fellow pupils. As much of his trade happened during class time, he did not endear himself to his teachers but he made enough money to buy himself a camera. Soon children were lining up to have their pictures taken in exchange for a small payment.

Maponya's camera served another purpose. He used it to talk his way into the girls' hostel, which was strictly out of bounds to his envious fellow male pupils.

When he left school, he began studying law by correspondence through Unisa. At the same time, he worked as a bus conductor and a clerk, first at the Atok Platinum Mines in Sekhukhuneland and then at the University of the North.

Maponya got his first big business break when he was invited to run the university's canteen. He used the money he made from this venture to invest in his first butchery, and this was the start of his business empire. He rose from an extremely poor background to become one of the most prominent and well-connected business people in the region. His businesses included the biggest Toyota dealership in the province, a Caltex garage, an abattoir, butcheries, liquor outlets, a hotel and farms.

He managed to balance the need for useful business contacts with his commitment to the struggle against apartheid. While on good terms with homeland leaders, such as Cedric Phatudi and Enos Mabuza, he was also active in the African National Congress (ANC) underground. When President Nelson Mandela made his first visit to Limpopo province, Maponya was his host. Maponya combined his business activities with a deep reverence for the traditional culture of his people. He loved traditional music and laid out money to ensure it got airtime on the radio. He preferred to be called Matome waga Maponya (Matome of the Maponya clan) rather than Matome Maponya. It was only through his clan that he was the person he was, he used to say. Maponya, who has died in Polokwane (formerly Pietersburg) in Limpopo province at the age of 55 on 9 August 2004 after a long illness and also suffered a stroke, was former chairman of the Lebowa Agricultural Corporation and president of the National African Farmers' Union. Maponya is survived by his wife Raisibe and six children.

Last updated : 15-Aug-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 17-Feb-2011