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PRETORIA: US car giant Ford on Tuesday announced a $1.05-billion investment in its South African operations, creating thousands of jobs and boosting production in the continent’s most industrialised economy.

The investment, the biggest in the US automaker’s 97-year history in South Africa, will be used to upgrade operations and expand the production of its Ranger pickup truck.

The company said it would hire an additional 1,200 people to support expanded production, bringing its South Africa workforce up to 5,500.

Around 10,000 new jobs will also be created across its local supplier network.

“This investment will further modernise our South African operations, helping them to play an even more important role in the turnaround and growth of our global automotive operations,” the head of Ford’s international markets group, Dianne Craig, said in a statement.

The commitment includes a $686-million upgrade to Ford’s Silverton assembly plant in the capital Pretoria and $365 million to upgrade tooling at major suppliers.

Silverton will also become one of the first Ford plants to become entirely energy self-sufficient and carbon neutral by 2024.

The announcement was made during a visit to Ford’s regional headquarters in Pretoria by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who hailed the investment as a “positive sign” of “economic recovery”.

South Africa has been the worst-hit of any African country by the coronavirus pandemic. It was already in recession before the pandemic struck, with ballooning debt and rampant unemployment. Its economy was forecast to contract by at least seven percent last year.

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