Katale Featured Article

KATALE THE INVENTOR OF FORMAL BLACK BUSINESS IN MARAPYANE

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Mothibi Setlhanka
mothibis@thevillagemag.co.za

15 JANUARY 2021

Mr. Michael Amos Katale Molai (92) (“Katale”) is the iconic entrepreneur behind the development and name of Katale Square located in Marapyane in the Dr. JS Moroka Municipality, Mpumalanga, and which directly services Marapyane and surrounding villages.

Katale is the first of three children born to Ishmael and Mmaseabe Molai. He was born in Marapyane on 14 August 1929. In that era, there lived a Malawian gentleman by the name of Clements Kadalie who is historically noted as “the father” of the first black national trade union movement in South Africa and who instrumentally headed the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union at the time. Mr. Ishmael Molai admired him so much that when his only son was born, he gave him the name Kadalie because he said and believed that his son was going to be as great as Clements Kadalie. Home affairs got the spelling of his name wrong when he registered his identity hence the variation in the spelling of the name to “Katale”.

Katale started school in 1936 at the age of 7 at Nine United School (now Ikageleng Primary) in Marapyane. He then moved to Eersterust Township in 1944 where he lived with his aunt to be able to go to Kilnerton School. His father, Ishmael, passed away the following year in 1945 due to tuberculosis. Katale then completed his studies at Hofmeyr High School in Atteridgeville whilst living with his uncle in Marabastad Township. His mother subsequently passed away in 1954 and as the eldest child, he had to take care of his two younger sisters.

In 1955, he married the beautiful Rose Madisha and during the subsistence of their marriage, they had four children together. In 1963, he married his second wife Caroline Mmatau Lekalakala and they also had four children. Mrs. Rose Molai unfortunately fell terminally ill and passed away in 2007 after a very long illness.

CAREER IN BUSINESS

  1. TRANSPORT BUSINESS

Katale obtained his driver’s license at the age of 20 in 1949. It had taken some serious convincing of his mother to let him use his father’s old car to continue with his father’s transport business after his father passed away. Through the hardships of driving an old car, he still managed to save enough money to buy himself his first second-hand car in 1952, a Plymouth Chrysler.

A few years later, Katale bought his first pickup truck (also known as a bakkie) at the police services auction. He had the bakkie modified to his own specifications for his needs and uniquely had chains installed on each of the tyres – an idea inspired by military vehicles during the world wars since the roads in the rural areas were not tarred nor graveled. This gave him the sole advantage of driving through the sandy and sometimes muddy roads whilst ferrying his passengers and goods to and from Tshwane. Things started getting better for him, especially since he could run his operations with less mechanical breakdowns and he grew his business immensely as he became the preferred transporter of choice. In 1956 he made history as the first man in the village and surrounding areas to buy a brand new car, a GMC. In the same year, he bought his first brand new private car, a classic 1949 Pontiac.

2. RETAIL BUSINESS

In 1959, on the same property where he now resides with his family, Katale began renting a shop called Sekhankhana Trading which was one of two shops in the area. The other shop was called Ga –Abbhu and it had a post office located on the property. He traded at the Sekhankhana shop for a few months but was eventually closed down by the officials as he didn’t have a trading license. In 1961, he along with his fiancée at the time, Caroline, then rented a tribal shop called Zipper Store/Ga Ntito, in Rasebidi section, now known as Zitty’s Tavern. Caroline ran the shop while Katale remained somewhat in the transport business. At the time, Katale had acquired a trading license but not a building license and ultimately, because the structure of the shop building had not been well maintained prior to him leasing it, he eventually had to stop trading there.

In 1963, Katale and his wife Caroline, more commonly known as “Mmane Shirley” within the community, acquired a lease agreement from Mr. Wingreen, a then white-owned shop owner, for the shop now known as Rams General Dealer. The shop was initially known as Ga Rinko Store and was leased to him at a cost of R30 per month. It had a mill, a post office and a petrol station and he renamed it Molai Trading Store.

With the friendship and association of the likes of the late Dr. Nthato Mmotlana, the late Mr J Mphafudi, the late Mr SJJ Lesolang, the late Mr Richard Maponya and the now retired Dr. Sam Motsuenyane, they started a chamber of commerce at Mr SJJ Lesolang’s house in Ga-Rankuwa. It was later formalized and registered as the National African Federation of Commerce and Industry (“NAFCOC”). Through this learning institution, the couple gained invaluable exposure through worldwide travel and brought the knowledge gained back into their business. Their business grew successfully and they ultimately turned the shop around by introducing the first self-service supermarket store in what was then considered part of the Moretele area. As the business continued to grow over the years, the couple joined Green Shield which was a monthly promotions/sale run by J & E Wholesalers and more local people were employed through this initiative.

After successfully establishing himself at Molai Trading Store, Katale then had a vision and a dream to build and own a shopping center for a bigger and more profitable business that could employ more of the local community members and he had his eye squarely set on acquiring a plot of land in Neu Halle Section where the non-trading Sekhankana and trading Abbhu shop (rented by Mr Moti Mohammed) were located. In 1976, his ambitions led him to go searching for the rightful owners of the plot and with the help of Mr Wingreen, he found the Goodman brothers. He says: “The funny story is that when I went to meet them in Johannesburg to negotiate the land purchase and price, I put on the simplest outfit so that those Jewish gentlemen would not be intimidated and charge me a lot of money”. And it worked! The Goodman brothers were taken aback when he came back the following day with the bank deposit slip as proof of full payment of the asking price! The land was subsequently registered and transferred into his name on 14 June 1978 at the Deeds Registries Office and the Indian trader (Mr Moti Mohammed) who had been renting the Abbhu shop, decided to leave when he was informed that the plot had been sold to a new owner.

Katale and Caroline then slowly relocated from Molai Trading Store (now Rams) to their newly acquired plot, into the old Abbhu shop. When the Molai Trading Store lease with the tribal office expired, they finally demolished the old Abbhu shop and built Khutsong Shopping Centre (“Khutsong”) on the property. This resulted in the South African Post Office moving inside the Khutsong Shopping Centre building on a lease basis. Khutsong was a great success in its prime, becoming a Coca-Cola and Easi-Gas depot and through the bottle store opened on the property, a South African Breweries depot as well. Khutsong introduced the first in-house bakery in Marapyane and was a Metro Cash and Carry Group member, running various retail and promotional items under the “Lucky 7” banner.

Due to it being situated in an ideal market location, there was consequently a healthy amount of interest in the locality of Khutsong and additional structures were added to the external shop building for rental purposes by various businesses. Katale later acquired rights to a branded Caltex filling station in 1999 on a retail owned and retail operated basis at the Khutsong business site proving to be a move that catapulted Khutsong to became the “One-Stop” destination shop for the local community who more fondly called it “ko Super/Supermarket/Ga Katale”.

Notwithstanding this success, due to the past government regime and legal dispensation, Katale found it difficult to really achieve what he wanted to but he was not derailed by any of the challenges – instead he was more determined to one day make it happen. He says he always kept his children in the business from an early age. Some of these children left their careers in Gauteng and came back to come work with him to achieve his life- long dream. It would take him and his family a period of more than ten years and approximately four “trial and errors” with various developers to finally partner with McCormick Property Development to develop the now beautiful, modern and local Katale Square Mall which opened its doors on 27 June 2019. 

Again the first! By the grace of God, his children say they are thankful that he is still blessed with life and got to see his dream come alive. He is also blessed with lots of grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren who all affectionately call him “Daddy Mike”. Katale reiterates that behind every successful man, there is an intelligent, hardworking and supportive woman and a united family. He attributes his success in retail and family life to his wife, Mmane Shirley, as they made a formidable business duo and raised all their children in business as a team. He also believes in never giving up no matter how hard the circumstances, the trick is to keep focused on the end goal, he says.

We wish him many more years. He is an inspiration and mentor. His legacy is there for everyone to see. The Village Mag wishes that an autobiography on the life of this great man may be written soon. Moreover, we would like to thank Mr Katale Molai and Mmane Shirley for the continued years of feeding so many families through formal and informal employment and ploughing back into the community through work done on a largely unpublicized scale, including various projects and funding of education for the less fortunate within the community. We would like to thank him and his family for all their efforts to pioneer and stimulate the local economy even in the midst of, and through hardships.