The South African Internet user population passed the 20-million mark for the first time in 2016, reaching 21 million, and is expected to grow to at least 22.5 million in 2017.
This is the main finding of the Internet Access in South Africa 2017 study, released last month by World Wide Worx with the support of Dark Fibre Africa (DFA), a provider of wholesale open-access fibre connectivity.
Based on Stats SA’s estimate that the South African population reached 55.9-million people in June 2016, this means that the country will reach the 40 per cent Internet penetration mark this year.
“Finally reaching the point where we can say every second adult South African is connected to the Internet is a major landmark, because Internet access is becoming synonymous with economic access,” says Reshaad Sha, Chief Strategy Officer and Executive Director of DFA. For this reason, it is critical that the country prioritise the roll-out of infrastructure in underserved areas, especially outside the major metropolitan areas.”
The question on primary uses of the Internet was answered by a sample representing 4.1 million South African adults across all income and education levels.
“The findings emphasise the potential of the Internet to enhance lives when we have greater penetration across all segments and demographics,” says Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx. “Over time, we will see higher proportions of people engaging in a wider range of activity, but the barriers to more active use will first have to come down.”
Want to know how South Africans use the internet? Here are 8 highlights from the report.
1. The single most common use of the Internet among South African adults is communication, reported by almost a third (31 per cent) of respondents, followed by social networking (24.9 per cent) and information (23.7 per cent), both reported by almost a quarter of respondents. Only then comes entertainment at 22.1 per cent.
2. While communication is the single most important use, email is reported by only 16.1 per cent of respondents, indicating that it is becoming a less important element of the communications mix as social media becomes a default channel.
3. Shopping and finance is cited by only 15.2 per cent of respondents, confirming previous World Wide Worx research that showed e-commerce was still not a major element of South African retail in general.
4. The report reveals that the digital divide remains a stark reality in South Africa, despite more than half of all adults in the country now having Internet access. The clearest divide is revealed in income disparity. Among adult South Africans earning more than R30 000 a month, Internet penetration is at 82.4 per cent, on a par with overall penetration in many industrialised countries. However, penetration declines rapidly as income declines, falling to 61.3 per cent for those earning between R14 000 and R18 000, 42 per cent for those earning between R3 000 and R6 000, and below 30 per cent for those earning below R2 500 a month.
5. High-income individuals tend to buy data in large bundles, which brings the cost down dramatically, to the extent that their data costs compare with some of the lowest in the world. However, this obscures the high cost of data for the rest of the population.
6. Education is also a barrier to Internet access, with less than 20 per cent access among all segments that have below Grade 7 education. Fewer than 40 per cent of those with less than a Grade 11 education have Internet access, but it rises rapidly after that: with a maximum Grade 11 education, it goes up to 48.7 per cent, Grade 12 goes to 55 per cent, and of those with a post-matric qualification, it reaches a high 71.6 per cent.
7. A digital divide also exists between major metros and non-metro areas, and between different cities and provinces. The Western Cape has by far the highest Internet penetration of all provinces, at 75 per cent, followed distantly by Gauteng at 55%. This is believed to reflect the extensive local initiatives in towns like Stellenbosch and Somerset West to increase coverage, as well as an earlier start on provincial connectivity initiatives.
8. There is one bright spot in the data: There is no longer a gender divide in Internet access in South Africa, with only marginally more men than women having access. A decade ago, there was still a strong bias towards male access to the Internet.