A couple of years ago, not many people had heard of Yekani. The company bought a stake in the well-known East London-based satellite decoder maker, Vektronix, and subsequently acquired it in its entirety.
When Yekani announced that it was launching a new R1 billion, 28 000 square metre manufacturing facility in mid-2018, I was present at the launch event and it was very impressive, to say the least. Not only the trade media like Dataweek, but also the mainstream media was in attendance, as well as dignitaries, politicians, radio and TV personalities, and the like.
Unfortunately, since late last year, the company has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Less than a year and a half after its launch, when it promised to employ more than 1000 people, the company instead retrenched more than 200 workers.
Since then, things have sadly only gotten worse. There were sensationalistic media reports in January that Yekani is facing liquidation and unable to repay a R200 million loan to Standard Bank, and that some employees had not been paid for months. Inevitably, the issue has been politicised too, with government blaming mismanagement at Yekani for its failure, and Yekani in turn bemoaning the lack of meaningful government support for locally manufactured products. Electronics manufacturing equipment suppliers that Dataweek knows well and has worked with closely over many years have also been burned by the whole affair, so all in all the knock-on effects of Yekani’s dire straits extend to many businesses and individuals.
It’s only fair to mention at this point that a press statement from Yekani, responding to the latest media speculation, stresses that the matter is now sub-judice, and that therefore “Yekani is currently unable to provide further details or comment on any rumours around this matter as it runs the risk of prejudicing or interfering with the pending court proceedings and its outcome.”
Let’s face it, R1 billion is a lot of money, and the endeavour was always bound to be fraught with risks, but to see it come to such a disastrous end is a tragedy. It goes beyond the failure of a single company, and speaks to the ability of the South African industry to sustain and nurture an ambitious venture of such a size. Perhaps it will turn out that there has been mismanagement at Yekani, or perhaps it will manage to rally and recover from its current situation, but I believe the blame should be laid directly at the feet of the government, for its inability to create, and strongly enforce, policies that truly benefit local manufacturing, rather than continuing to pay lip service to it.
But enough of the doom and gloom. A new year is all about a fresh start, and in what has become a tradition for Dataweek to do its part to get the industry off on the right foot, we’re also bringing you the latest edition of our annual Electronics Manufacturing & Production (EMP) Handbook. EMP turns five this year, and we’ve once again packed it with opinions and technical articles from leading experts in the industry, as well as a plethora of equipment, tools, accessories and consumables, and a directory of South African manufacturers, suppliers and service providers.
Here’s hoping for a fantastic 2020 for the South African electronics manufacturing industry, and for all of our readers.
Brett van den Bosch
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