Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel.  Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel addresses the opening of the Hisense factory in Atlantis in the Western Cape on Thursday. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

THE Western Cape town of Atlantis could be on its way to becoming a manufacturing hub once again with the opening of a Hisense factory that will create up to 1,200 jobs.

Hisense, a Chinese consumer electronics company, officially opened its 25,200m² factory at a glitzy ceremony on Thursday.

Authorities hope the factory will change the fortunes of the town and transform South Africa’s electronics manufacturing industry, which already contributes about 12.5% to gross domestic product.

Hisense has injected R350m into the first phase of the Atlantis plant. To date, 300 production positions have been filled and the number is expected to double by the end of the year. This would breath life into Atlantis, which over the years has struggled with high poverty levels.

The Hisense Atlantis plant will initially supply sub-Saharan Africa with leading-edge innovative flat-panel televisions and refrigeration units.

The products would be manufactured by a local workforce of more than 300, who are taking part in a skills-transfer programme led by Hisense technicians and engineers from China.

Situated 40km north of the Cape Town central business district, Atlantis was established in the 1970s as an industrial centre. The area had since experienced a severe loss of business and jobs, with many companies moving closer to Cape Town — a trend worsened by the 2008-09 global economic crisis.

Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel said on Thursday that the opening of the Hisense factory meant that Atlantis was well on its way to become a hub of manufacturing excellence.

He also said there were clear signs that the local manufacturing sector was strengthening.

The opening of the factory would be "a story, above all, of jobs", Mr Patel said. Hisense would allow South Africa to combine its high labour intensive capacity with China’s hi-tech industry.

Also speaking during the official opening, Western Cape Premier Helen Zille said the Hisense factory would spur South Africa into achieving its second transition towards economic transformation, by creating more jobs.

Executive vice-president of Hisense Group, Lan Lin, said the company was committed to become a positive role model for other Chinese companies seeking close ties with South Africa.

Mr Lin also said that over the next three to five years, Hisense aimed to grow its workforce to more than 1,000, and a solid strategy was in place to ensure this would happen.

He said for now, the new hires at Atlantis would be part of an on-the-job skills-transfer programme led by Hisense technicians from China. Production had also started, Mr Lin said.

The world’s largest commercially available flat-panel Hisense 110-inch Smart TV was also unveiled at the launch.

The Hisense XT900 is the largest ultra-high-definition LED TV commercially available product of its kind. It offers active shutter 3D technology on 120Hz panels, a USB-mounted detachable camera that supports Skype, as well as a remote control that houses a microphone to allow users to operate the TV using simple voice commands.