Mara phones: Made in Africa. Picture: Supplied
Mara phones: Made in Africa. Picture: Supplied

Rwandan tech company Mara Group is set to unveil a R1.5bn state-of-the-art smartphone manufacturing plant at the Dube TradePort in Durban this week.

The pan-African company, which also operates in the financial, manufacturing, real estate and agriculture industries, launched its Mara X and Mara Z smartphones in Kigali last week.

It tweeted on Tuesday that over 90% of employees at its SA operation — which has mostly been kept under wraps until now — are young people and more than 60% of the staff are women. The project was expected to create about 500 jobs.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to attend the Durban launch.

The Mara Group’s R1.5bn investment into SA’s economy is a welcome development and will boost growth. The economy is expected to grow by just 0.6% in 2019.

KwaZulu-Natal premier Sihle Zikalala tells the FM that the Mara Group’s investment is a commitment the company made during Ramaphosa’s investment conference last year.

Sihle Zikalala: KwaZulu-Natal KZN is an investment-friendly province. Picture: Sunday Times/Jackie Clausen
Sihle Zikalala: KwaZulu-Natal KZN is an investment-friendly province. Picture: Sunday Times/Jackie Clausen

"Indeed, we can’t wait for the manufacturing plant to be unveiled and for it to start operating," says Zikalala. "This investment means our entities that are working on facilitating investments are working with the speed that is desired for the growth of the economy."

This project affirms the confidence that businesses have in KwaZulu-Natal as an investment-friendly province with "the capacity to host this serious and big investment", he says.

"As government, we want to confirm and pledge that we will do our best to grow the economy and ensure jobs are created for our people."

The Mara Group had not responded to the FM’s questions at the time of going to press.

Its plan to manufacture smartphones in Africa is reportedly backed by the African Development Bank (AfDB).

During the Africa Investment Forum hosted by the bank in Joburg in November 2018, Mara Group CEO Ashish Thakkar was joined by AfDB president Akinwumi Adesina in announcing more details on the Mara phone.

According to a report on the bank’s website, the Mara phone will be "the first made-in-Africa, full-scale smartphone. The initial target market for the phones would be first-time African smartphone users, while the first manufacturing plants are to be located in Rwanda and SA."

At the AfDB forum, Thakkar said: "This project will show the potential and ability that Africa can produce high-quality and affordable smartphones in Africa, by Africans, for Africans and for the rest of the world."