Our emerging market digital landscape report series is back, with its fifth instalment focusing on the state of internet and mobile in South Africa.

The report offers an overview for marketers and investors looking to South Africa for new digital business opportunities and draws on interviews from those within the market, as well as a range of secondary sources.

The end of the digital beginning

Since the mid-nineties, both politics and the media have become increasingly democratized in South Africa thanks to the post-Apartheid ANC government and the growth of the internet.

With around 24m internet users, today the country is one of the fastest growing internet markets in the world with a yearly growth rate of 14% (according to Internet Live Stats).

But with a current penetration rate of around 47%, there is still considerable room for growth.

Affordable mobile technologies and increasingly alluring online services are seeing more South Africans come online. Additionally, by 2030 the South African government is expected to have invested R70b (£4bn) to ensure everyone in the country has internet access.

Initiatives such as Project Isizwe and their Tshwane Free Wi-Fi Project are seeing this goal become a reality. 

Now is a good time for businesses to explore online channels in the region and many enterprises are already making good headway in engaging with South African audiences through digital channels.

Mobile devices mean mobile users

Much of South Africa’s digital audience are coming online via mobile devices. In January 2015, We Are Social put the number of mobile owners in the country at 79m and PwC estimates that mobile internet users in the market will reach 24.4m in 2015.

This proliferation of mobile devices and the current infrastructure and affordability issues surrounding internet access at home means a lot of internet users are going online in public spaces in urban centres, at work, in schools and in internet cafes.

When they do log on, getting information (via search, Wikipedia and domestic news sites) and socializing (predominantly on Facebook) are the biggest online activities.

But there are still barriers

While moves are being made to improve infrastructure and to give more South Africans the option to get online, research from The University of Witwatersrand in its report The New Wave see’s 76% of unconnected people not going online because they don’t know how to use the internet and 50% admitting they don’t know what it is.

Consequently, sites that are working best in South Africa and most likely to succeed going forward are those whose design and strategy is absolutely customer-centric and user-friendly. 

Anyone looking to the market needs to ensure their digital presence is simple to understand and easy to use on mobile and away from the home.

Ecommerce sites need to ensure their brand and service is trustworthy and that there are as many options as possible in place so customers can pay in the way they feel most comfortable, and have their goods delivered how and when they like.

For more information about mobile, social, ecommerce and other aspects of the online picture in the region, check out our South Africa Digital Market Landscape Report.