Nedbank, Vodacom and now retail giant Pick n Pay are among the growing list of South African companies to back the locally made Mara phone.

The Android phone is the brainchild of pan-African entrepreneur Ashish Thakkar, CEO and founder of the Mara Corporation, which opened a high-tech smartphone factory at the Dube TradePort Special Economic Zone north of Durban in October.

Thakkar has committed to investing R1.5-billion in the new plant, around half of which has already been spent. The Durban plant, which has created more than 200 new jobs, followed the opening of Maras first phone factory in Rwanda earlier in October.Pick n Pay is the first retail chain to partner with us. However, we have also secured lucrative partnership deals with Nedbank and Vodacom

It is great to be working with some of South Africas biggest corporates in taking our Mara phones to the broader market. Pick n Pay is the first retail chain to partner with us. However, we have also secured lucrative partnership deals with Nedbank and Vodacom, Thakkar said.

He added that negotiations are still ongoing with other retailers, banks and telecommunications providers to increase the distribution and availability of Mara phones across the country and on the continent.

It is still early days, but we have a lot of positive momentum after opening our South African Mara Phone factory with President Cyril Ramaphosa in October. While the Mara X and Mara Z models have been available on our website since launch, the new partnership deals mean that our proudly South African manufactured smartphones are available on local retail shelves, he said.

Positioned for growth

Getting our smartphones available through broader retail channels, such as Vodacom and now Pick n Pay, before Christmas and the peak festive season puts us in a good position for growth in 2020. We are expecting to see the real growth of the Mara Phone brand in South Africa from 2020.

Thakkar would not comment on how many Mara phones have been sold thus far. However, he said the smartphone has been sold in 46 countries around the world through its online store.

While most of the demand is naturally from African countries, we have been surprised by interest even being shown from Europe and other regions.

Thakkar said the deal with Nedbank is of particular significance as it involves offering Mara phones to Nedbank clients as well as opportunities for the smartphones to be financed by the banking giant.

In a statement announcing the deal, Nedbanks Ciko Thomas, group managing executive for retail and business banking, said the groups share a similar philosophy.

As a bank that is absolutely committed to economic inclusion and development in South Africa, Nedbank is excited at this unique opportunity to put a top-quality, proudly South African mobile device in the hands of our clients, he said.The full details of Nedbanks Mara Phones offer are yet to be revealed, but the smartphones will be pre-loaded with the Nedbank Money app

The full details of Nedbanks Mara Phones offer are yet to be revealed, but the smartphones will be pre-loaded with the Nedbank Money app. The bank also confirmed flexible finance options for clients to pay for the smartphones and that the Nedbank offer is unlikely to be cellular network-specific.

Davide Tacchino, terminals managing executive at Vodacom, said the group is proud to offer the Made in Africa Mara smartphones to its customers not only because it provides South Africans with the opportunity to connect to the things that matter most to them, but also because this supports our commitment to African innovation.

Thakkar is also looking for Mara Phones to have its own retail store network in South Africa.

Tech website Ventureburn reported earlier this month that South African-born tech entrepreneur Vinny Lingham has secured a 20% stake in the South African master franchise to distribute Mara phones.