Nelly Moncho sits at her work station completely engrossed in what she’s doing, ignoring the sound of chatter and clinking tools. Eight months ago, she had no experience when she started working as a technician at the Mobicel cellphone assembly plant when it opened in Midrand.
When we met last week, she cheerfully told City Press that she had been promoted to supervisory position – proof that the plant is all about empowering young women.
As she wrapped and packaged one of the cellphones her team had just built from scratch, Moncho said: “I was promoted from a technician to a junior supervisor four months ago. I am a hardworking person. I do my best in everything. I started here in January, I was promoted in March.”
The 24-year-old is one of 65 workers at the new South African cellphone company’s first assembly plan.
Mobicel, one of the largest importers of and dealers in affordable phones in South Africa, has gone beyond preaching about gender equality and has actually implemented programmes at the Midrand plant.
Aysha Tshose, Mobicel’s marketing brand manager, who also manages the assembly plant, told City Press that the decision to employ only young black women was an easy one as this would be “a game-changer”.
“When we started this campaign, I had a chat with our chief executive officer [about who to employ] and when we were conducting interviews, many of the applicants were young black women.
“We realised that, in the job market, we need to work extra hard to get to where we want to be as young women,” Tshose said.
“Employing young women is perfect because being the first plant to recruit only young black women is a game-changer. I believe that, through this initiative, women can be game-changers,” she said.
Moncho, who is a mother of one, had no experience in the sector and hadn’t had a permanent job before being employed by Mobicel, said she’d never imagined she would one day be involved in “building a cellphone from scratch”.
“This is my first permanent job and it is exciting because of the opportunities it is giving us as young black women in an unequal world. I also get to meet new people.
“Before I started this job, I was studying office administration at PC Training College but I could not complete my studies. Because I am a fast learner, I managed to catch on to the process very quickly – from before the product is considered a phone to the very end where it is packaged and ready to be shipped,” Moncho said.
One of her colleagues, 30-year-old Esther Swakamisa, said that when she started as a technician at the plant, she was not tech savvy. Originally from Pretoria, Swakamisa moved to Midrand two months ago to be closer to work.
“I relocated in June after working at the plant since February. When I first got here, I was not very savvy with phones and I had never worked in such a big group before,” she said looking at the phone components at her workstation.
“There were challenges initially with the technical aspect of things, but I have become technically knowledgeable and there are things I couldn’t do before that I am good at now,” Swakamisa said.
While her new job has equipped her with new skills, the mother of a three-year-old boy said it had also helped her support those close to her.
“Before this job, I was a stay-at-home mum, even though I got a diploma in business communications last year. I was struggling to find a job,” Swakamisa said.
“My son is back home in Pretoria with my family. This job has given me the freedom to provide for him and not rely on other people to help me in that regard,” she said.
The young women sit in rows and the phone goes down the line from one workstation to another – each person works on different components of the assembly – before it reaches its final destination.
The process of assembling the phone, which begins with an empty front part, includes inserting a sub printed circuit board (PCB), connecting a vibrator, a speaker, the power and volume keys, inserting the main PCB and a water detective seal.
This process goes through 17 technicians before the phone is finally switched on and tested. It is then cleaned and packaged.
“The whole assembling process, where the phone is finally switched on and tested to see that it is operational, takes about 10 minutes,” said plant supervisor Albert Alexander.
“After we see that it is working properly, and it is GSM [grams per square metre] tested and the IMEI [international mobile equipment identity] numbers are scanned and recorded, it is ready for packaging with all its components, including the charger and other accessories,” Alexander said.
According to Alexander, the plant assembles “about 1 500 cellphones day with a staff complement of 65 young women”.
At her workstation waiting for the next phone to arrive to work on is 20-year-old technician Moesha Booysen, who has worked at a cellphone company before, but not as a technician.
“I was at with my previous employer for just two months,” Booysen said as she grabbed a phone from the assembly line.
“When I found out exactly what we would be doing here – building phones from scratch – I was nervous because it’s something I had never done before. However, I saw it as an opportunity to learn something new in the technical field, especially because women struggle a lot to be seen and recognised or given opportunities in any company. I feel like this gives us young people experience,” Booysen said.
Echoing her sentiments, Tshose added: “There is so much space for growth here, and I am all about job creation for youngsters and empowering our people.
“So even when we have our mentoring sessions with the women, we talk about the importance of personal growth and we encourage them to aspire to start their own businesses,” she said.
Mobicel founder and chief executive Ridwhan Khan said the plant was set up to address the ever-increasing unemployment problem facing the country’s young people and women.
“Bringing our assembly plant home to South Africa [from China] has been our vision since we started our brand. And when the moment arrived, we felt it had to be celebrated with our appreciation of the role that women play in building our society,” he said.
“By focusing on employing young women, we are equipping them with the tools to make their own choices for active participation in the economy. In a society where women still face discrimination in their access to the labour market, we are doing our part to bridge the divide,” Khan said.
Khan launched the independently designed cellphones in 2007. Mobicel devices are now all developed and assembled in South Africa.