The following article appeared in the Zoutpansberger newspaper in 2010. It is used with permission of the author, Anton van Zyl
“I need you to read this,” Solly Noor told me some 10 years ago. He took out a card with the well-known quotation of John D Rockefeller Jr., as it appears on the inscription at the Rockefeller Centre in New York:
“I believe in the dignity of labor, whether with head or hand; that the world owes no man a living but that it owes every man an opportunity to make a living.”
Some people grab the opportunities in life, whereas others expect it to somehow come their way. It never comes easily, and you have to work hard to reach success, he explained.
Success did not come easily for the Noor family in South Africa. Their story started in the late 1890’s when the first family members arrived from India in Pretoria. Like so many other immigrants from across the world, they ended up on the southern tip of Africa in a quest to pave out a new future. The only opportunity available for these families was to become traders, and this they did with a fair amount of success. The Indian traders gradually moved to the north and became important parts of the economy in towns like Louis Trichardt.
|Anver Hajee Noor (photo) photographed during the opening of the Noor Sentre in Songozwi Street.
In 1949, a young Anver Hajee Noor joined some of the other relatives who were trading in this northern outpost of the republic. He started Mansuli Jewellers, situated in what is today Songozwi Street, next to the CNA.
From a very young age his son, Suliman (commonly known as Solly), helped his father in the shop. In 1962, at the age of 14, he left school to work full-time at the business. Three months later, on the 1st of March 1963, he opened the doors of Solly’s Record Bar. This little shop in the then Trichardt Street (where Nando’s is today) quickly became a well-known beacon and Solly’s started to build a reputation for carrying a large amount of stock at discounted prices.
In the mid 1960s, a couple of things happened that dramatically shaped the future for this young entrepreneur. Solly expanded his range to include electronic goods and quickly realized that there was a huge market for appliances. Shortly after that, on 11 September 1965, the then Prime Minister of Rhodesia, Mr Ian Smith, announced that the country would be severing all ties with the British Crown. This immediately caused an international outcry and sanctions followed. For businesses on the South African side of the border, this meant trade opportunities and Solly realized this. He also realized that the real business lay in volumes and not big profits on single items.
The 1970s, however, w a very sad time for the local Indian business community. The apartheid laws forced them out of the centre of town, where they were trading for almost 80 years. They were told to move to an area demarcated for them out of town in what later became known as Eltivillas.
At that stage the main road to the north proceeded through the centre of town along Krogh Street. In a strange twist of fate the Roads Department decided a few years before the forced removal to build a by-pass, which caused the N1 to the north to pass right next to Eltivillas.
When Solly’s Discount World opened its doors on July 1, 1980, the store was so packed with customers that they could hardly move. People came from all over the region to snap up the bargains. For the thousands of shoppers the politics of the day became insignificant, as long as they could get value for their money.
During those years Indian residents of the country were not allowed to buy property in the town. They could only buy land in specifically demarcated areas and even these were scarce and very limited in terms of space. Businessmen such as Solly had to make use of a white nominee to buy property. His first acquisition of property in the centre of Louis Trichardt in 1985 met with a lot of resistance from Council, but there was very little they could do.
On 18 August 1988 the Noor Centre on the corner of Krogh and the then Trichardt street opened its doors. This ultra-modern building hosted banks, clothing shops and a major retail store. It changed the facade of town and also introduced a new era of development. Few people could believe that the young man from Solly’s Record Bar could become a major property developer so quickly.
In the years that followed, he quickly expanded to other towns in the province and also to other parts of the country. The 1990s brought along political freedom, which meant that he no longer had to invest via third parties. In 1993, a second Solly’s Discount World opened in the heart of the then Pietersburg. This was followed two years later by the opening of an ultra-modern Solly’s Discount World store on the corner of Burger and Songozwi Street in Louis Trichardt. The hard work brought along wealth and Solly knew he had to invest it wisely.
“I believe that thrift is essential to well-ordered living and that economy is a prime requisite of a sound financial structure, whether in government, business or personal affairs,” reads the inscription at the Rockefeller Center. Solly could just as well have phrased it himself. He was chasing wealth and, in the process, built up the town and region’s economy.
On 15 February 2002, the doors of Solly’s Discount World in Johannesburg South opened its doors. This store of over 3 500 m² just off the M1 in Selby near Gold Reef City took the trusted brand closer to the bigger city markets.
Solly realized at a very young age that he had an incredible talent for dealing in property transactions. Whether it was at an auction or over the phone, he had an intuitive feeling for when to buy and when to sell. He bought property all across the country and even abroad, but he had the patience to wait for the right time before developing it further.
In a recent interview published in The Auction Magazine, he talks about this passion. “When I was very young, I always had a love for property – it is my passion. I come from humble beginnings, and I always had a wish to be in property. By the grace of God I am now deeply involved in it.”
One aspect that Solly reckons contributed to the success of his ventures, is the relationships he built up with his suppliers throughout the years. The Rockefeller inscription again comes to mind as it states:
“I believe in the sacredness of a promise, that a man's word should be as good as his bond; that character - not wealth or power or position - is of supreme worth.”
It is this relationship with suppliers and customers that ensured the growth of his business. The same principles guided his property development and he takes great pride when speaking of all the good friends he made in the past 50 years. The list include names such as Clem Sunter, Trevor Manual, Steve Booysen, Setiso Debengwa, Collins Chabane and many, many more.
Solly, a very devoted Muslim, believes in modesty and that one should not ascribe success to personal prowess. Again the Rockefeller inscription could just as well have had another author when it states:
“I believe in all-wise-and all-loving God, named by whatever name, and that the individual’s highest fulfilment, greatest happiness, and widest usefulness are to be found in living in harmony with His will.”