Efforts to revive South Africa’s sluggish economy and create much-needed employment are set to receive a major boost with the launch of Mara Phone’s first cell phone manufacturing plant in South Africa.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, as part of the recently launched District-Based Development Model, will later this week launch the Mara Phone Plant at Dube Trade Port in KwaZulu-Natal.
During South Africa’s inaugural Africa Investment Forum in November last year, company founder and Chief Executive Officer, Ashish Thakkar, 38, announced that his company would invest R1.5 billion in a South African business venture over the next five years. Almost 11 months later, the Rwanda-based Mara group has made good on its promise.
The modern state-of-the-art plant, with an annual production capacity of over 1.2 million handsets, is expected of manufacture two models of smartphones – the Mara X and Mara Z. The company plans to launch upgraded versions annually.
According to the company’s website, The Mara X costs $179 (approximately R2,683), and the Mara Z costs $254 (approximately R3,806). Both phones have 720x1440p HDR-capable screens utilizing Corning Gorilla Glass. The cheaper Mara X has a MediaTek MT6739 quad core processor, 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of internal storage, as well as a fingerprint reader. It runs Android Go (a lightweight version of Android). The more expensive Mara Z has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 processor, 3GB of RAM, and 16GB of internal storage, as well as both a fingerprint reader and facial recognition for unlocking, and runs full Android. The Mara Z is part of Google’s Android One program, which provides a manufacturer unalterable version of near-stock Android, as well as 3 years of frequent security updates, and 2 years of operating system updates.
The venture will generate hundreds of high-skilled direct jobs and thousands of indirect jobs. It will contribute to the transfer of technology and high-tech knowledge in South Africa. On its Twitter account, Mara Phones said more than 60% of the staff at the plant are women while 90% of the workforce will be youth.
The production is expected to serve the domestic market as well as the regional market, especially the SADC region, contributing to strategies that position South Africa as the gateway to Africa.
Given the location of the operations, Mara Phones will be designated as a local product once production commences. Promotion will be conducted through a mix of traditional and digital/online media while utilising local platforms to influence local markets.
The phones are expected to be listed on commerce sites such as Jumia, Konga, and Amazon. The company also plans to sell the phones via retail partnerships with telecom operators Vodafone, MTN and Airtel.
Addressing reporters at the Investment Forum last year, Thakkar said his company had plans to develop the phone in plants across the continent’s five regions.
“We all know the importance of high quality and affordable smartphones and the impact this can have on the continent. Quality smartphones mean we can truly enable financial inclusion, micro-lending and micro-insurance. This can translate into better education, digital healthcare and agriculture efficiency and improve commerce.
“If this is all going to be possible… we [need] quality and affordable smartphones. Unfortunately, we have quality smartphones but they are not affordable and if it is affordable, it is not quality,” he said at the time.
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