Toyota steers for Soweto

Janine Erasmus

Toyota South Africa, Barloworld Automotive and the Maponya Group have joined forces in a plan to open Soweto’s first ever Toyota dealership.

South Africa’s largest township has been the site of much growth and development in the last five years, with both the City of Johannesburg and private developers investing time and money in initiatives such as the Soweto Greening Project, the Diepsloot Memorial Park and the Holiday Inn Soweto.

Thanks to the foresight and dedication of one of its most distinguished residents, Soweto has seen the opening of a mega-shopping centre – the Maponya Mall, Soweto’s largest. Maponya bought the land on which the Maponya Mall now stands some 28 years ago but waited until the new political dispensation was well entrenched before he began to realise his dream – to build a shopping centre especially for the people of Soweto. In September 2007 the mall opened in Pimville, Soweto’s oldest suburb, and Maponya’s dream became reality.

Now the 82-year-old visionary, still full of inspiration and imaginative ideas, is hard at work on his next project, which is also the first stage of a larger plan – that of a 100 000 m2 Motor City housing eight dealerships, to be constructed during 2008.

Soweto is home to a large percentage of the fast-growing middle-income group which comprises just 10% of black South Africans but contributes 43% of total black buying power, according to a 2006 report issued by the Unilever Institute of Strategic Marketing and Research Surveys at the University of Cape Town.

A study conducted in 2005 by the City of Johannesburg’s Department of Finance and Economic Development found that the disposable income of Soweto residents was R4.2 billion, but that only R1.05 billion of that amount was being spent within Soweto. With the shopping centre and Motor City, Maponya intends to tap into this segment’s massive potential and allow Sowetans to plough their money back into the community on an even larger scale.

Said President and CEO of Toyota South Africa, Johan van Zyl, in a statement released by Toyota, “Toyota is happy to confirm the establishment of a dealership in Soweto which will further increase the number of our black empowered dealerships within our dealer network.

“We have long sought a franchise outlet in this important and burgeoning market. Globally Toyota sets extremely high standards for its dealers, especially in terms of investment, service standards, and position. Soweto has been a long-standing ‘open point’ in our dealer network. As the vehicle market has expanded in recent years the urgency to fill this point with a viable dealership has grown. Earlier this year we invited interested parties to submit applications for a dealership in Soweto,“ he added.

Polokwane-born Richard Maponya is a self-made tycoon whose career began to flourish a number of decades ago in Soweto. Although he is a qualified teacher, he started off in the clothing industry but because of the apartheid laws of the time was unable to progress beyond the level of foreman.

He was also prohibited from opening his own clothing company but was allowed to sell “daily necessities”, so in 1952 the entrepreneur started a milk delivery business in Dube, Soweto, with his late wife Marina, who became a respected and successful businesswoman in her own right. Because in those days people didn’t have electricity – let alone fridges – the milk delivery venture was extremely lucrative. “I then expanded to include a grocery store and butcher, fruit and vegetable store and we also had a little restaurant,” recalled Maponya in a 2006 interview with Moneyweb.

Maponya later broadened his interests to include horseracing, which during the 60s was still very much a domain of white punters and trainers. It took six years of battling, but finally the then Jockey Club granted him his own racing colours. Even then he was not permitted into the owners’ and trainers’ enclosure. Nonetheless, Maponya persevered and became one of South Africa’s leading racehorse owners and breeders, although he is no longer actively involved in the sport.

In 1965 he became the founding president of the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Nafcoc). In later years he was instrumental in helping to found the African Bank Ltd, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, and the Blackchain Ltd retail company. His interests and businesses include car rental, liquor sales, property development, and a BMW car dealership, among others, making the Maponya Group the largest independent employer in Soweto.

In 2006 Maponya was honoured with the FM (Financial Mail) Little Black Book Lifetime Achiever Award in recognition of his illustrious business career and his pioneering achievements.

Announcing his latest business venture, Maponya said, “This is yet another dream come true. We commend Toyota SA for taking the bold step and showing confidence in the market by awarding this opportunity in Soweto. We are also pleased to be in partnership with Barloworld Automotive and are sure that we will establish a successful business together for the benefit of Toyota customers in Soweto.”

The octogenarian shows no signs of slowing down and in fact has said that he will die with his boots on. “This opportunity will again create jobs and bring investment into Soweto. More importantly, the people of Soweto will now be able to purchase vehicles and get quality after-sales service right at their doorstep,” he said.