Maponya builds his dream mall

SOWETO, one of the largest townships in SA, will soon be getting its first upmarket “mega” shopping mall.

It will also be a dream come true for Sowetan businessman Richard Maponya, who owns the land on which the R450m Maponya Mall will be built.

For more than 26 years, Maponya tried to get a mall built on the 21ha site — situated on the Old Potchefstroom Road near Nancefield in Soweto — but his efforts were stymied first by the apartheid government, and then by the rand crash and interest rate shock in the late 1990s.

Construction on Maponya Mall, which will ultimately cover 60000m², starts this month with completion scheduled for October next year.

The project is a partnership between Maponya Motors Property Holdings and Zenprop Property Holdings, one of SA’s largest private property developers.

Maponya is one of Soweto’s best-known businessmen. He managed to create successful businesses in spite of apartheid constraints on black business.

Maponya started a dairy in Soweto with his wife Marina.That venture was followed by Maponya’s Supply Stores in Dube.

Maponya went on to become a doyen of black business, as a major retailer and chairman of bottling company Kilimanjaro. Apart from his interest in horse racing, which saw him own about 60 horses, he also had a supermarket chain, a BMW franchise, filling stations, a funeral parlour and a transport company.

But his concept of a mall for Soweto took a lot longer to get off the ground.

Maponya, who has lived in Soweto all his life, says that more than 26 years he ago he envisaged a mall where people could shop for fashion items and other consumer goods.

“Soweto is one of the biggest suburbs of Jo’burg. Stores were small and no one could just wake up and walk to a mall.

“If you wanted luxury goods, you had to take a taxi, bus or train into the CBD. I could never understand the reasoning behind the absence of a mall in a suburb of about 5-million people.”

But he points out that black people were considered temporary citizens and were not allowed to create businesses that were considered permanent.

“I never stopped wanting to put up a shopping mall and I kept knocking on doors and getting turned down.”

Maponya says at one stage in the early 1980s he was going to do a deal with South African Breweries and OK Bazaars but the government refused to grant permission to build.

He later partnered with Woolworth’s property division, Wooltru Props, with a view to developing the mall.

“This time we nearly got a deal because the political climate was beginning to loosen up.

“Then, after 1994, we made good progress and we were actually ready to go on site in 1998 when the rand crashed.

“We had to put the development on hold as the costs were completely different and some tenants pulled out.

“During that time Wooltru Props was sold. There I was, still left with this big chunk of underdeveloped land.” Maponya says he then put together a professional team and started resuscitating his idea of erecting a mall. He has now partnered with Zenprop.

Zenprop joint CEO Rodney Weinstein says the first phase of construction will see about 50000m² being built. Although one shopping centre, called Protea Gardens, has been built in Soweto and the earthworks for another, Jabulani Mall, are under way, Weinstein says that the Maponya Mall will be complimentary to the other two.

“We think there is enough room for all of them,” he says.

Weinstein says a study commissioned by the City of Johannesburg’s economic development unit in 2003 put the combined annual buying power of Sowetans at more than R10,5bn, with R4,3bn of that available for consumer spending.

Weinstein says Pick ’n Pay Hypermarket, Woolworths, Edgars and Ster Kinekor have already committed themselves to taking space in Maponya Mall.

He says they are in talks with just about all national retail groups, with interest expressed in more than 75% of the space.

“We have pitched it as an upmarket mall, comparable to any other modern mall in Jo’burg. We are looking at a mall that will have food and groceries, fashion, restaurants, entertainment, furniture, services and banks.

“The quality of the building and design will be 21st century and anyone who is used to upmarket, trendy shopping can happily shop here.”

Bentel Associates International, the architects that designed Clearwater Mall in Roodepoort, will design Maponya Mall.

Weinstein says the mall will cater for the aspirant consumer in the Soweto area. “We are confident with its history, demographics and design, it will be a great success,” he says.

Maponya says the mall will also help with job creation in the Soweto area. “We will be able to create an opportunity to uplift peoples’ lives in the area.”

Article by: Nick Wilson - www.businessday.co.za