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Mercedes-Benz South Africa (MBSA) after 20 years of democracy

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The automotive assembly plant situated at Gately Industrial Township in East London, which was to eventually morph into the MBSA production facility, first opened its doors in 1950. From these small beginnings, the company has expanded to become one of the most respected corporate citizens in the country - one of only a few motor manufacturers to produce, market, retail, service and finance its own passenger cars and commercial vehicles locally.

The past 20 years has not only seen South Africa develop its democratic muscle, it has also seen the economy expand. Even though the country still experiences a variety of socio-economic challenges, the automotive industry today, according to the department of Trade and Industry's Industrial Policy Action Plan, makes up 6.8% of the manufacturing sector, employing almost 100 000 people. Within this context MBSA has distinguished itself, with a reputation as Africa's top quality car maker.

The success story of MBSA includes the steady transformation from a low volume local operation to high volume global exporter. The current C-Class vehicle model is built locally to exacting standards and shipped to the USA. Vice President manufacturing, and CEO designate of MBSA, Arno van der Merwe says: "Even more noteworthy from a performance perspective is that this expansion has netted the company five successive JD Power and Associates accolades for production quality in the USA, and several Synovate and Ipsos awards locally. It is humbling and inspirational to be part of a team that has taken an automotive manufacturing plant from relative obscurity, at the southern tip of Africa, to be amongst the world's best."

This expansion has not been without its growing pains. The spirit of collaboration in the company, which has grown stronger during the country's 20 years of democracy, has blossomed into a culture where the corporate values of respect and integrity create unity out of any divisive situation that might arise.

Born out of the pre-democracy struggle, MBSA's labour relations practises has always been a benchmark in the industry, and many of the founding principles of its employee relations practise were referenced by lawmakers in the crafting of the country's labour law, post democracy

The strength of this culture was particularly evident in 2013, when one of the longest automotive industry wage strikes in 20 years hit the country. The solid foundation set over the years at MBSA saw workers return to the production lines with renewed vigour to realise a full catch-back of all volumes lost during the strike.

Building skills, to create a new future

A focus on social equity led the company to defy the concept of segregated development that held sway with the government of the day in 1981, opening the very first multi-racial technical training facility in the country, at its East London plant.

Since 1981, the centre has trained in excess of 10 000 artisans of the highest calibre for the plant as well as the industry, and in 2012 extended its offering to include an accredited Trade Test Centre which serves the broader Eastern Cape region.

Vice President for Human resources at MBSA, Johann Evertse says: "Armed with a good education and market-relevant skills, individuals are empowered to chart their own success."

Post democracy, MBSA's foresight has paid dividends, as its highly skilled, passionate and motivated workforce paved the way for continued investment into and expansion at its manufacturing plant.

The announcement in 2010 that the East London plant has been selected as one of four Daimler AG sites worldwide to build the new C-Class will lead to the creation of around 400 new jobs in the plant, as well as more job creation indirectly in the automotive supply sector.

An intensive skills training and recruitment drive is an important part of the company's complex new C-Class planning project, as preparations to ready the manufacturing facility for the introduction of numerous new technologies in 2014 intensifies.

However, MBSA's training and development programme takes a more holistic approach. A fully-fledged human resources development department co-ordinates targeted career development programmes for all levels of employees, including formal education qualifications in line with business goals.

A series of graduate trainee initiatives continue to stock a vibrant pipeline of competent employees for both the company and the industry. In addition, a learnership programme aims to supply qualified and skilled motor technicians for the after-sales arena.

Prioritising sustainable community upliftment

Education also forms the backbone of the company's commitment to the social upliftment of South Africa, with community projects spanning from early childhood development to primary and tertiary education, as well as learnerships.

"The development of a competent human resource base plays an integral part in the socio-economic challenges that are so unique to the South African context. Economic growth, in conjunction with social stability, is unquestionably a key to sustainable growth", says Evertse.

In addition, MBSA also supports the fight against HIV and AIDS, not only in communities associated with the business, but as a leader in the country with its benchmark employee workplace programme. The company has gained worldwide praise for the impact of its various programmes in curbing the effect of HIV and AIDS on the economy and social cohesion of the country. The Siyakhana project in the Small and Medium Enterprise sector of East London, for instance, is based on the very successful MBSA HIV and AIDS Workplace programme that prioritises employee health and wellness.

Keeping the wheels of commerce rolling

MBSA's commercial vehicles divisions, Daimler Trucks and Buses and Mercedes-Benz Vans, promote the health of the road freight industry through targeted HIV and AIDS support for the Trucking Wellness initiative. The trucking industry, which has been widely punted as the life-blood of the South African economy, also continues to benefit from the wide scope of innovative mobility solutions available from MBSA.

"One in every three of the new extra-heavy commercial vehicles on the road last year, for example, was supplied by us," says Kobus van Zyl, managing director Daimler Trucks and Buses. The company's one-stop-shop approach to customer dedication links the supply of innovative and cost-efficient new and used commercial vehicles with tailored financing, and telematics fleet management solutions.

The best or nothing - yesterday, today and into the future

MBSA has cemented its position as a stalwart of South African business, and remains committed to bring the full force of its forward-thinking leadership to bear in steering the future of the country and its people.

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