SOUTH AFRICA – Rwanda’s first smartphone manufacturer, Mara group, is set to expand in south Africa with a first fully-fledged smartphone manufacturing plant in Durban.

Within ten days of opening its first Mara Phone factory in Rwanda’s capital Kigali last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa and Mara’s CEO will officially open a second smartphone manufacturing plant at Durban’s Dube TradePort Special Economic Zone (SEZ).

The opening comes within a year of Thakkar committing to invest Us$100 million (R1.5 billion) into SA’s first fully-fledged smartphone factory during President Ramaphosa’s SA Investment Conference in Sandton last October.

According to MoneyWeb, Dube TradePort, next to the King Shaka International Airport north of Durban, had secured the Mara Phone manufacturing plant, to be based at the SEZ.

The Dubai-based Mara Group opened its first Mara Phone factory at Kigali SEZ on Monday last week, which was attended by Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

Thakkar said the group is investing around $200 million in the setup of both factories in Kigali and Durban, which will manufacture “made-in-Africa” smartphones for the first time. There are other mobile phone facilities in Africa, but these operate as assembly plants.

“Most importantly our high-quality but affordable smartphones will be manufactured at our Mara Phone plants in Rwanda and South Africa…. We’ve already invested $50 million in the Kigali plant and more than $50 million in the Durban plant,” he says, adding that the plants are the same size.

Thakkar says each plant will employ 200 people at the onset, of whom over 60% are women and over 90% youth. This will increase as production rises and the full $200 million investment is rolled out.

The Mara Phone plant at Dube TradePort will ultimately “generate over 1 500 direct jobs and thousands of indirect jobs” when it gets to full capacity over time.

The Rwanda operations will target the east and central Africa markets, while the SA plant will largely target the local market and export to Southern Africa.

“We currently have two smartphone models – the Mara X and Mara Z. In the future we will have more models such as the Mara X1, Mara Z1. Our capacity (at our plants) is a few million smartphones a year,” he adds.

Thakkar believes Mara Phone will make an impact on the SA market and the rest of Africa. Pan-African investment conglomerate Mara Group was founded by Thakkar, a Ugandan-born self-made billionaire.

Mara Group’s investment into Dube TradePort is within the first phase of the SEZ, which has already attracted investments to the tune of around R4 billion.