China’s Yangtze Optics Africa Cable (YOAC) which, together with joint venture partner, Mustek, is building a state-of-the-art optical fibre cable manufacturing plant at Dube TradePort, has sent eight of the 120 South Africans it will employ there to China for training.

Construction of one of the biggest plants of its kind in Africa is being fast tracked with the support of KZN provincial government.

The JV partners are investing R250 million in the new facility and will create 150 jobs.

The 15 000m2 manufacturing facility is scheduled for completion in November this year. Production will commence in December and the plant is expected to be fully operational by January 2017.

It will have manufacturing capacity of more than one million fibre kilometres and will supply cable to fibre-to-the-home service providers, the private sector, mobile telecommunications providers and the public sector.

The Chinese training programme covers the full spectrum of fibre cable manufacturing from optic fibre colouring, secondary coating, stranding, sheathing to cable testing and quality control.

High tech skills like this are in short supply in South Africa.

On completion of training in mid-September, the team in training will head back to South Africa to train the rest of the teams that will run the South African plant.

YOAC has committed itself to a four-year skills development plan to expand local skills in specialist roles in optical fibre cable manufacturing.

Speaking about the training experience, Velile Mngonyama, production supervisor at YOAC, said that although he did have training and some experience in cable production, the precision and detail required to produce optical fibre was at a different level.

“Although the processes for copper cable manufacturing and optical fibre are similar, the technical specifications and applications for optical fibre are totally different. The experience has been an eye opener and we cannot wait to come back home to share what we have learnt with the rest of the team in South Africa,” he said.

Another participant in the training programme, Mohammed Rawat, the maintenance manager, at YOAC, added: “The optical fibre industry is totally different from the copper cables that we are used to. Although the industries are similar, the plant management, maintenance and technology used is much more advanced. The training has been intense.”

Pieter Viljoen, CEO of YOAC, noted that, while copper cables had been a reliable medium in the past, optical fibre was the future and would definitely change the way in which people and businesses connected.

He added that, over the next few years, fibre optic network rollout would increase significantly as developing countries invested in fibre networks that were faster and much more reliable.

“With increased demand for fibre optic networks, there will be a need to train local people to set up fibre optical local manufacturing plants to supply the anticipated huge potential market,” he said.

Referring to the recent China (Guangdong) – South Africa Economic and Trade Cooperation Conference, Viljoen reiterated that, when Chinese companies invested in South Africa, they tapped into local resources. Where there were skills gaps, they had to upskill and train local people.