As a young person why did you leave teaching to go into business?
I was waiting to take up a teaching post when a friend told me that a retailer in the Joburg CBD was looking for “an educated black man” to look after stock on the floor.
My prospective employer and I hit it off immediately, and the job paid far better than teaching.
What would you say is the most difficult lesson you’ve learnt in business and how have you applied it?
Strength of mind is key. When I came to Soweto it consisted of a few houses.
I watched it grow over the years along with my determination to become a businessperson and an employer. It was a huge challenge as black people were not allowed to become involved in business, but I was lucky enough to be born an entrepreneur.
I saw young white men following in their fathers’ footsteps and running big companies and I thought to myself, if they can do that, so can I. Everything was against me but my determination got me through.
Describe the challenges you faced in building Maponya Mall?
When I found the site 28 years ago, I knew it was perfect. The financial institutions were not keen to give me money as Soweto was risky and I did not have enough collateral.
A series of disappointments followed, but my argument was simple: there were already over 3,5 million people in the area who needed a shopping centre where they could buy everything under one roof. It made such sense to me that I never let go of the idea.
The turning point came when Nelson Mandela was released. I acquired the title deeds for the land and started looking for partners. I approached Investec, but I did not have enough collateral to satisfy its investors.
I was however, introduced to Zenprop which was very keen on the deal. We became partners and Investec gave us the funding we needed.
How did you sustain your vision?
I knew that Soweto was ready for a mall and I refused to compromise on quality. What I had in mind was a world class shopping centre; I did not want a budget warehouse. That kept my dream alive.
What do you think the government needs to do to further develop black business?
The government needs to create centres where aspirant young entrepreneurs can receive basic training in business skills. The country also needs access to banks that cater for the previously disadvantaged.
Without money, you can do nothing. You may have dreams, but it will take a long time to achieve them if you do not have access to finance.
In my travels overseas I came across such “risk funds” that were created to provide loans for people who do not have the collateral required by traditional banks.
We need to empower black people much faster to alleviate poverty and small businesses are the ones that create jobs.
What is your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?
I appeal to youngsters to be aware that there are no quick fixes or short cuts to making money.
Becoming involved in criminal activities is the worst thing they can do to themselves. They must rather be trained, work hard and empower themselves for the future.
There are opportunities out there like never before and the sky is literally the limit.