Maverick Life


Not one day of work missed in 45 years — Ford hails the importance of people in its 100 years in South Africa

Not one day of work missed in 45 years — Ford hails the importance of people in its 100 years in South Africa
A Ford Model T cavalcade in the 1920s in Port Elizabeth. (Photo: Ford SA)

During the auto manufacturer’s centenary event at its plant in Pretoria, it became clear that its 5,500 employees are valued.

During my many years as a motoring journalist, one story received more feedback from readers than any other. It was a rather drab story about BMW adding another shift to its Rosslyn plant in 2012 to ramp up production of the 3-Series.

The story mentioned that BMW had created 600 new jobs in the process and I received a flood of emails from desperate job seekers who wanted to know to whom they should send their CVs.

The big South African unemployment problem has existed for many years. Though Statistics South Africa’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey for Q3 this year revealed that 399,000 more people had jobs compared with Q2, there are still 7.8 million unemployed people who are looking for jobs.

At Ford South Africa’s recent celebration of 100 years of manufacturing vehicles in the country, Elena Ford, Henry Ford’s great-granddaughter, talked about how important this country is to the company as South Africa has one of only four Ford ­manufacturing plants in the world that has been manufacturing its vehicles for a cen­tury or more.


An antique Ford in mint condition on display at the company’s centenary event in Silverton, Pretoria, on 8 November. (Photo: Ford SA)

Ford, who was in South Africa for the first time, talked about various facets of the company’s local and global operations. But she seemed particularly animated when she started to talk about Ford South Africa employees, especially when she mentioned being told a story about an employee at Ford’s Silverton plant who had recently retired. During their 45 years on the job, they hadn’t missed a single day of work.

Can you imagine not missing a day of work for even one year, let alone 45? I suppose that’s the power of having a job, un­­derstanding how important it is and being su­­premely grateful for it.

Evolution of manufacturing

In 1923, Ford assembled 10 Model T cars per day at a disused wool shed in Struan­dale, Port Elizabeth. Today, it manufactures 720 vehicles per day at its Silverton plant in Pretoria.

In the past 13 years Ford has invested about R30-billion in local operations, and early next year it will invest another R5.2-billion as the Silverton plant gets ready to produce the plug-in hybrid Ranger bakkie.

Over the next 18 months, Ford South Africa will launch nine new vehicles, including the all-electric Mustang Mach-e GT, which does 0-100km/h in 3.7 seconds.

Our accounting classes took place under those trees. It was my favourite subject.

In the dreary industrial hub of Silverton it was ­difficult not to be impressed by Ford’s operations and particularly the 30,000 carport solar panels that generate 13.4MW and supply about 35% of the power needed at the vast operation.

Ford is looking at ways of feeding this power back to the grid during weekends when the plant isn’t operational.


Elelwani Caroline Mudau, Ford SA’s new model and supply manager. (Photo: Ford SA)

The people

As guests took in the many iconic Ford vehicles at the pop-up museum that was created for the centenary, with everything from a fully functional Model T to the Cortina V6, the Focus RS and the GT, I chatted to ­Elelwani Caroline Mudau, the up-­and-coming Ford South Africa new models and supply manager.

Mudau (37) grew up in the rural village of Sundani in Venda, Limpopo. Like far too many schools in this country, her high school didn’t have sufficient classrooms and many subjects were taught in the shade of expansive trees on the school grounds.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Ford swings at supercars with new $300,000 Mustang GTD

“Our accounting classes took place under those trees. It was my favourite subject and I had high marks for accounting in matric… What I learnt then has stuck with me throughout my life,” said Mudau, who also played an active role in raising her five siblings as her mom worked long hours as a domestic worker.

Mudau moved to Pretoria in 2004 to study supply chain logistics at what used to be Pretoria Technikon.

After qualifying with a BTech degree in logistics in 2008, she worked at Absa for a few years before joining Ford’s graduate trainee pilot programme in 2012.

Mudau’s favourite vehicle is her Ford Ranger Wildtrak, which her diminutive grandmother jokingly refers to as a helicopter because of its significant ground clearance.

After four months she was given a ­permanent job as a supply chain analyst, and she has made the most of her time at Ford ever since.

“I’ve had a lot of opportunities here [at Ford] in terms of leadership development and many mentors have helped me over the years, so I did the same thing and I started mentoring others too.

“I’m the first graduate in my family and I’m used as an example at my old school. The teachers talk about me to inspire the children and to make them see that if they work hard they can also be successful,” said Mudau.

The Ford Ranger hybrid bakkie. (Photo: Ford SA)

She was determined not to focus on her past as she spoke at length about the many courses she’s been on over the years and the skills she’s acquired at Ford.

She said one of her favourite quotes was by Nora Ephron – “be the heroine of your life, not the victim” – before adding in her own powerful words: “Where a person comes from doesn’t determine where they end up.”

Needless to say, Mudau’s favourite vehicle is her Ford Ranger Wildtrak, which her diminutive grandmother jokingly refers to as a helicopter because of its significant ground clearance resulting in her always needing help to get into it.

The future

Ford South Africa employs 5,500 people. As part of its centenary celebration it is working with the Department of Basic ­Education, Maersk shipping company and Gift of the Givers to donate maths and ­science labs to 100 primary schools across the country.

Along with the new battery facility being built for the Ranger plug-in hybrid, the paint shop is being upgraded as the Ranger hybrid will be exported to Europe once production starts next year.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Ford revs up an historic win at SA Car of the Year competition

As Ford gears up to strengthen its commitment to its local operations, one can only hope that the continuing automation of manufacturing and the inevitable incorporation of artificial intelligence doesn’t result in any job losses in a country where employment is still a pipe dream for millions of people. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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  • Anthony Wheatley says:

    Sorry to rain on the parade but the 100 years were not contiguous. Where were Ford during the period 85 yo 95 ? They ran with their tail between their legs, together with GM, Peugeot, Citroën, Renault, Volvo, Fiat, Alfa, Rover, etc. etc. The Silverton plant was named Samcor and they flogged re-badged Mazda products. Very few major manfacturers had the integrity to continue here through the sanction years including VW, AUDI, MB, BMW, TOYOTA, MAZDA, NISSAN. People have very short memories.

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