President Cyril Ramaphosa tours the Mara smartphone factory with The Mara Group Chief Executive Ashish Thakkar and the Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs. Photo: Siyabulela Duda (GCIS)

JOHANNESBURG – The South African economy got another boost and vote of confidence last week, when Mara Phones launched the very first South African smartphone manufacturing plant in KwaZulu-Natal.  

Much was written at the time of the launch about this innovative company that has established manufacturing bases in Rwanda and South Africa, especially since the event was attended by President Cyril Ramaphosa, so I won't give you all the facts and figures about their investment, employment statistics and future growth and job creation plans. Suffice to say, they will be manufacturing cellphones for Africans, made by Africans and that they are officially a member of Proudly SA.

Prior to the launch we had already attended a factory tour of the Mara plant and were struck by the locally made for local conditions ethos of the company. 

It is something that we see time and again with our local member companies, and it is always great to see this flexibility to prevailing market conditions. 

Just last week, we wrote about Bridgestone Tyres’ development of a tyre for South Africa's roads and a few columns ago we spoke about the adaptation of their wheelbarrow models by Lasher Tools, changing production lines and tyres to suit the region into which they are selling. 

We saw this again during a visit to Bliss Brands’ manufacturing plant here in Gauteng by some of our team last month. 

Bliss too is sensitive to local preferences, mainly seen in their choice of packaging between boxes and packets of their Maq washing powder (although they also produce dish washing detergents, household cleaners, soap, softener and bleach.) They listen to their market and despite the enormous costs involved in commissioning new bottle and soap moulds, they have responded with pack sizes that suit their customers.

Last week our PR team took a small contingent of media to the Eastern Cape, and among other site visits and activities they visited the Twizza factory in Queenstown. 

Twizza is another Proudly SA member company and one that has a rich and deep affinity to the communities within which they work, with three plants across the Eastern and Western Cape and Mpumalanga.

They have also created authentic flavours for their carbonated drinks that reflect the local market, having recently added baobab. 

Incidentally, we were introduced to baobab powder by South African chef Nompumelelo Mqwebu via is book, Through the Eyes of an African Chef. Baobab is highly nutritious, with slow release energy qualities and its powder is now available in some of our food retail stores.

Going back to Mara Phones and their response to the African market – they have included as one of the features of the phone a much longer battery life, given the continent's sometimes unstable and inaccessible electricity supply. 

Their video and photo storage capacity is unlimited – not everybody in Africa has access to the cloud for excess storage and so this is another acknowledgement of the environment within which they are operating.

Between them, Lasher Tools, Bliss Brands, Twizza and Mara Phones, all members of the buy local movement, employ 2 500 people who collectively support around 25 000 extended family members. 

We simply cannot emphasise enough how much we need to support these and our other local brands. 

The president described Proudly SA as the “spirited buy local campaign” during his speech at Mara. We try and pass this passion and spirit for localisation on to everyone with whom we interact – so please feel the spirit of these amazing local companies – just a tiny sample of the many companies doing amazing things for our country and delivering products that suit our exact needs. 

Buy local and keep our jobs, and then companies like Mara will come and create more jobs and we will slowly be lifted out of our current unemployment crisis.

Just like Zamajobe praises an amazing place in her song Ndawo Yami, we need these uniquely tailored, high-quality products to do amazingly well in this beautiful country of ours, and we are the only ones that can ensure that happens.

Eustace Mashimbye is the chief executive of Proudly SA.

BUSINESS REPORT