President Cyril Ramaphosa lauded businessman Richard Maponya for being a true patriot while addressing mourners at the funeral of the entrepreneur on Tuesday.
"Richard Pelwana Maponya was the most devoted of patriots. He loved his country and he loved his people. He was a soldier, not of the battlefield, but at the frontline of the struggle for the economic emancipation of his people – a struggle that endures to this day," said Ramaphosa at the University of Johannesburg's Soweto Campus.
Former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe were also in attendance, along with other dignitaries and politicians.
Maponya died on January 6 after a short illness. He was 99-years-old.
Ramaphosa described him as a man of "extraordinary resilience" who "persevered until he reached the pinnacle of success".
"And yet he remained humble, magnanimous and generous. South Africa indeed has lost one of her finest sons."
Maponya was driven by the conviction that South Africa would never be truly free until the fruits of prosperity were shared by all its people, said Ramaphosa, adding that Maponya had stood for self upliftment and inspired a new generation of business people.
"Despite his stature as the doyen of black business, he was always there with a hand to pull up those who stood below.
"Having scaled the heights, he wanted to see others alongside him on the rostrum of success.
"Ntate Richard was always pushing back the frontiers, agitating for more to be done to support small business, and encouraging more people to take the great and daunting leap into entrepreneurship.
"From his earliest days, and long before it became a popular term, he demonstrated the qualities of responsible corporate citizenship.
"He did not hoard the gains he made over his decades in business, but ploughed much of it back into the communities in which he operated," said the president.
Maponya did not see corporate social investment as a box ticking instead, but as an imperative to transform a racialised economy, he added. And during apartheid, Maponya viewed black business as part of the broad liberation movement to advance economic freedom.
Maponya was a straight-talker, said the president, who did not hesitate to chide government when it was going off course, but he did this from a position of principle, not malice.
"I personally received many a late night call from him, sharing his viewpoint on one or another pressing issue of the day.
"In my very last engagements with him he urged me to do everything I can to see his greatest dream realised, to set up a youth entrepreneurship academy.
"It is a wish I will endeavour to see fulfilled on his behalf.
"What I will remember most from these conversations is that he did not intellectualise problems, simply rant or speak in vague terms.
"He always ended these discussions by saying: Here, this is what I can do. This is what I will do. This is what I have. Send me."