Starting as a sole practitioner in 1986, Maditsi Mphela built Mphela & Associates to become one of the most highly-regarded black-owned law firms in the country today, with a 100% success rate in more than 15 000 accident and personal injury claims. He talks us through the essentials of growing his business
In 1986, a young attorney finished his articles and prepared to follow his dream: to open his own practice and serve his community. With a young wife by his side and a track record of excellence, Maditsi Mphela seemed destined for success. However, as a black attorney in SA during the 1980s, he would have to face many challenges before realising his dreams.
Mphela’s childhood had given him the insight and determination to succeed despite various setbacks. His father lost an arm in a train accident, yet he continued to run his poultry business. “He was the most hardworking disabled person I knew,” says Mphela. His mother had only passed Grade 7, but she did not allow this to hold her back. Eager to gain new skills and help support her family, she learned how to knit and embroider and turned this into a home business. “In fact, my siblings and I never wore a jersey bought from a store, because we had unique, quality, home-made ones.”
So when the young Maditsi had to face hardship, he was already primed for turning challenges into opportunities.
“In the beginning, it could sometimes get tough. I had to work abnormally long hours, travelling to far-away courts in the homelands. At the time, I was also operating under oppressive apartheid policies, like having to conduct court proceedings in Afrikaans and not having my cases prioritised.”
In those days, the traditional banks were reluctant to fund black-owned businesses. To start his enterprise, he was forced to use his life cover as collateral to obtain a loan of R10 000 from African Bank.
“I only had one employee when I started – a typist who also acted as a secretary, receptionist, cleaner and clerk. I frequently struggled with cash flow. My first deposit in the business trust account was a measly R50. Back then, there was no EFT system. The cheque was literally in the mail and we would have to wait for the money to clear, but I still had to pay salaries. My wife, Lekgale, was a great supporter. Sometimes she had to help out financially.”
Despite the struggles, Mphela gained enormous satisfaction from working closely with the community. He took on a wide range of cases, usually for people who struggled to pay him. However, in some cases, this did not matter. When the outcome of the case was a large settlement, his fees were covered. This was not the only benefit. “Above all, I enjoyed putting smiles on my clients’ faces.”