SA's hub of 'true' African smartphones goes bust
Once billed as a boost for the local labour market and a step towards South Africa becoming a tech giant, the Mara Phones smartphone manufacturing facility is set to be sold on an offer basis.
Business Insider yesterday reported that the high-tech facility is “empty and on auction”, noting that such a sale was mandated by Standard Bank and the Industrial Development Corporation – financiers of the smartphone factory.
Speaking on 702’s The Money Show with Bruce Whitfield, Keith Green, manager at Park Village Auctions in Durban, revealed the facility was already shutdown.
“Park Village has been entrusted to dispose of the assets…on behalf of the financial entities. We have elected to rather do it on an offer basis rather than an auction basis, in order to procure the correct buyer and also give the potential purchases time to do their due-diligence, in order to procure or purchase the equipment due to its specialised nature.”
Remarking on exactly what assets are up for sale, Green told the radio show: “The plant was geared to manufacture cellphones. However, it can be reconfigured in order to produce circuit boards to make anything else: amplifiers, tracking devices or whatever you prefer that’s got circuit boards in it. It’s not as though it’s just unique to the cellphone industry.”
Located at the Dube Trade Port Special Economic Zone in KwaZulu-Natal, the Mara Phones factory was officially opened in October 2019 as a hub that would manufacture ‘truly’ African smartphones.
At the time, Mara Group founder and CEO Ashish Thakkar highlighted that while a few smartphones are assembled in Africa, nothing is truly being manufactured on the continent.
As a result, he pledged R1.5 billion at the Africa Investment Forum, saying it would go towards establishing SA as a manufacturing hub of Africa’s “first high-tech, high-quality and affordable” smartphones.
The establishment of the Mara Phones smartphone production plant in SA was also viewed as sending a strong message of confidence in local manufacturing and the ‘buy local’ movement in the country.
Furthermore, Mara was said to be committed to sourcing from other local enterprises, creating much-needed jobs in the process.
Soon after the manufacturing plant opened, it signed deals with two of the big-four banks and giant retail outlet Pick n Pay, to make the locally-made smartphones available to their customers.
In November 2020, the first Mara Experience Store was opened at Maponya Mall in Soweto.
Owner and SABC news broadcaster Chanté Jantjies told ITWeb, at the time, that she feels honoured to be opening her first franchise store of the Mara brand. Jantjies also noted plans to own 10 experience stores in future.
“I’ve managed to negotiate a deal with Mara directly that my first 10 stores, if I do open them, I don’t pay franchise fees or royalty fees. They’ve been really supportive of young empowerment and women empowerment, so that has been really great,” she said.
The Mara Phones star seemed to continue to rise, as Sylvester Taku, appointed as the company’s South African MD in January 2021, said the smartphone manufacturer was aiming for the top three spot among smartphone brands in SA.
Last April, it was revealed Mara Phones was a beneficiary of government’s multibillion-rand RT-15 contract, as the state decided to prioritise locally-manufactured devices.
The tender requires preference to be given to local mobile device manufacturers.
Explaining how the tender will work, National Treasury said all organs of state can utilise the transversal contract.
Some 450 organs of state participated in the previous contract (RT15-2016). This included 38 national departments, 99 provincial departments, 106 local government departments and 207 other state institutions.
National Treasury said together with the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, it supports the proudly South African campaign and the objectives of the Industrial Policy Action Plan, especially those aimed at promoting the procurement of domestically-produced goods and services.
“As part of continuation of advancing some of the key socio-economic challenges, such as job creation, the procurement of local-manufactured devices is a first preference on this transversal contract by all organs of state,” it noted.