Nhlanhla Lux: Meet the man who saved Maponya Mall from looters
Nhlanhla Lux says his decision to put himself on the line and defend Maponya Mall during the July unrest was a split-second decision.
Entrepreneur and community leader Nhlanhla Lux poses for a photograph at his home in Soweto, 1 December 2021. Lux is known for among other things, defending Maponya Mall during the looting earlier this year. Picture: The Citizen/Michel Bega
Who Nhlanhla Lux is, depends on who you ask. “In Soweto, I’m known as this very radical guy, who’s always ready to fight for people’s rights. But in other communities, I’m known as a ‘Lux, the pro golfer’." "And in others still, I’m ‘Lux, that guy who flies planes’,” he says with a laugh. This year, Lux became a household name across South Africa when he led the defence of Maponya Mall during the violent looting that erupted in the wake of former president Jacob Zuma’s incarceration. Entrepreneur and community leader Nhlanhla Lux poses for a photograph at his home…
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“I was born in Soweto and I was raised in Soweto. And both my parents come from Soweto, so I’m the most Sowetan – through and through,” he says.
Lux did his schooling in the suburbs, though. He excelled both academically and in sports; and in high school, he was awarded a full bursary to St David’s Marist Inanda.
“I found myself in a very unique position,” he says.
“I would wake up on a kitchen floor – because I come from a really poor background – get dressed quickly and take three taxis to get to school. And then I’d spend my day in a classroom surrounded by this immense privilege.”
But this was “a blessing and pleasure”, he says. “It gave me a broader perspective on life. And today, I find it’s easy for me to go into the most elite communities and talk to them and whatever I have to say will honestly resonate with them. But then I can have a meeting with extremely poor people in Alexandra and what I have to say will honestly resonate with them, too”.
After school, Lux went to the University of Johannesburg where he studied international relations and politics.
He also completed a golf director qualification through the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA). But from a young age, his dream had always been to become a pilot.
And so after completing his studies and working his way up through the ranks – eventually buying first a driving range and then a local golf course, which he redesigned and rebuilt before reselling – he decided to put himself through aviation school and became a charter pilot, eventually starting his own charter company: Native Airways.
He reels off a list of celebrity clients he’s flown – including the likes of musicians Mafikizolo and Prokid.
“I refused to fly politicians, though,” he says, citing his disdain for politics as the reason.
Over the past few years, Lux aviation career has taken a backseat to the work he’s been doing with the Soweto Parliament – a platform he founded for local young people to develop their leadership skills and foster increased political, economic and social accountability in their communities.
His aversion to politics was what inspired him to start the Soweto Parliament.
“In the township, as soon as you’ve got any leadership qualities they throw you into politics. And I wanted to come up with an alternative.”
Of his decision to put himself on the line and defend Maponya Mall during the July unrest, Lux says it was in fact split-second.
“When I got home, it was on the news that every mall in Soweto was looted. But I knew Maponya Mall hadn’t been looted because I had just driven past. And so I grabbed my gear – I literally got dressed in the car – and I jumped onto social media.
“That mall just couldn’t go down. Richard Maponya [the late entrepreneur and property developer who opened the mall] worked so hard just for some of our minds to be opened up… And the biggest legacy he has is the elephants outside the mall that represent his clan name so I refused to let them fall.”
On the back of the attention he started to garner after the July unrest, Lux decided to take the concept behind the Soweto Parliament national and has now also started the Young Peoples Government of South Africa.
“It’s all about preparing young people to lead this country properly and creating now a national accountability structure with special programs so we can also be active citizens and contribute to the development of the country,” he says.
Of the legacy he hopes to leave one day, Lux says: “This journey is not about me at all. I’ve never thought about it that way. I just want people to have independent thinking and the opportunity to be whatever they want to be.”