Business

In 2019, SA celebrated its first smartphone factory. Now it is empty and going on auction.

Business Insider SA
Mara store
Mara smartphones on display
  • In 2019, the Mara smartphone factory was launched with President Cyril Ramaphosa in attendance, and government declarations of its importance.
  • It is now standing empty, and is on auction.
  • Mara said it had spent half of a planned R1.5 billion investment setting up the plant.
  • Its funders, the IDC and Standard Bank, mandated the sale of the facility. 
  • For more stories, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Towards the end of 2019, President Cyril Ramaphosa described the launch of the Mara smartphone factory outside Durban as "a great moment in South Africa’s drive to be a producer of advanced goods".

That factory is now empty, and on auction.

Its sale was mandated by Standard Bank and the Industrial Development Corporation (which supplied trade finance and project finance respectively), Keith Green, Park Village Auctions' Durban auctioneer, said, speaking to Business Insider South Africa on Monday.

See also | Mara Phones went bust in South Africa despite a R100 million tax break, and govt preference

Auction documents show that two financial institutions have taken possession of the factory, down to the office furniture.

The sale includes the manufacturing and assembly plant, equipment, and components for smartphones, plus already completed phones in storage.

The equipment is said to be state-of-the-art equipment, and is relatively new, Green said.

At the time it was launched, Mara said it had spent roughly half of a planned R1.5 billion total investment in South Africa in setting up the factory.

Green said there had already been some interest from potential local and international buyers.

"We’ve had one call out of India, and we’re waiting for them to come through, and we’ve had probably about three or four other guys that have already done some viewing in that industry, that are keen on it," he said.

Mara did not respond to Business Insider’s questions. Standard Bank said it could not comment.

The 2019 launch of the plant was intimately linked to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s investment drive, and the government’s ambitions for South Africa to become a technology leader.

"It advances our plan to make this country a hub of innovation and enterprise which will open opportunities for our young people," said Ramaphosa, and urged South Africans to buy the phones.

South Africa's government publication hailed the factory's launch as "a major shot in the arm" for the economy, and employment.

A year later, the first Mara store in the country opened in Maponya Mall, Soweto, with plans to roll out more in other locations.

See also: TAKE A LOOK | Locally made Mara smartphones get a first 'experience' store in Soweto

The South African facility opened just days after Rwandan President Paul Kagame opened a Mara factory in that country, which the company said was the first smartphone manufacturing – as opposed to assembly – plant on the continent.

The factories both made the Mara X and the Mara Z Android phones, which sold for between R3,000 and R4,000.

(Additional compilation by Phillip de Wet)

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