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R1bn boost for East London

Jun 10 2018 09:15
Lubabalo Ngcukana

A R1 billion factory opened its doors in East London this week, creating hundreds of jobs for local youngsters and women.

Yekani Manufacturing, a 100% black-owned information and communications technology electronics manufacturing factory, was officially opened in the East London special economic zone during a glittering event attended by dignitaries including Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies and Eastern Cape Premier Phumulo Masualle.

Yekani manufactures devices including Explora HD decoders, Teac television sets, set-top boxes and tablets.

In isiZulu, the name means “stop complaining and do your thing”.

CEO Siphiwe Cele said at the event that the company was the result of an ambitious undertaking to find a Pan-African company that would span different sectors of the economy. It was founded in 1998.

“Yekani is going to create great things, not just in this country, not only in this continent of Africa, but in the whole world. We wanted to showcase African talent and expertise, and show that, yes, it can be done here rather than relying on outside countries.”

Cele challenged government to buy its products and asked that the country’s 1.3 million civil servants use its products so that the company could create more jobs.

“The phones we have created at Yekani are manufactured in this facility. The education tablets we are doing were created by Yekani and are manufactured here. If you do not give us that support, we will not be able to employ the people we want to.”

He said that, although the department of trade and industry’s grants were welcome, this was not what they wanted.

“We want to be given projects and work so that we can create more employment in this province and the rest of South Africa.

“We want to show that this thing can be done and can be done here in Africa. We have to ask ourselves, how do island states such as Taiwan, Singapore and Japan have the technology that they have when they do not have the resources that we, as a country, as a continent, have?

“Yekani is a sleeping giant that is about to wake up.”

Cele said most of the money, about R1 billion in total, to make the state-of-the-art facility a reality, came from four shareholders: Standard Bank, the department of trade and industry, Yekani and government.

“It is going to be a long partnership,” he said.

Cele said Yekani was a response to the call by President Cyril Ramaphosa to stimulate inner cities by creating manufacturing facilities.

“Yekani has heeded that call. It is now up to government to support us and other companies that are doing this. It wasn’t a simple journey. We didn’t start it because there was a tender. There isn’t. We have not done any tenders, except for supplying Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal with tablets. We are heeding the call of our government.”

He said 1 700 people were employed during the construction of the 28 000m2 facility.

At Yekani’s other facility in Wilsonia, which is also in East London, a total of 450 people are employed. Of these workers, 90% are women. They are all “young professionals” like engineers.

He said he hoped to employ at least 1 000 more people in the new facility.

“This is the biggest capacity in Africa. This is the most modern machinery we have in this facility and which has been supplied by our partners, including Panasonic.”

They intended to train more of their staff and collaborate with universities.

Aki Anastasiou, a technology expert, said the project was long overdue.

“I have been very privileged in my life to have travelled extensively to places like China and North America, and to see big manufacturing organisations like Nokia and Apple and all these people who make these nice devices. And every time I walk through these factories, I think to myself, why can’t we have this in our country?”

He said that looking at the technology that would come out of the facility and thinking about the fourth industrial revolution and the internet of things, the company would take this country and continent to a new dimension.

Masualle described the initiative as groundbreaking.

Davies said South Africa had not been able to manufacture enough electronic products, but had instead relied on importing electronic goods.

“What we are witnessing today is a company that is getting into this space, which is very important as we prepare ourselves for the fourth industrial revolution.

“This is an example of what we can do if we put our minds to it. I think this is an investment to celebrate at a number of levels in an industry that is of strategic importance and key to job creation.”

Davies said his department provided R350 million for the construction of the company’s infrastructure through the special economic zones fund, and a R50 million grant for the machinery from the Black Industrialist Programme.

He said the department intended to hold a meeting with all black industrialist scheme beneficiaries to discuss how it could improve on its incentive grants and help beneficiaries grow and expand their operations.

Yekani’s James Munn, said: “We have the capacity, we have the quality, we have the capability and, most importantly, we have the people and the sheer will to build world-class products, which is what Yekani is all about. We will be able to provide a smartphone equal to the very best you can find in the world, using the best components and engineering practices used globally.”

Akihiro Yamazaki, a director at multinational electronics company Panasonic, believed Yekani’s technology was world class.

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