After Access 2022: Internet Usage Trends in South Africa  

Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic had an accelerating effect on information and communications technology (ICT) development and uptake around the world, it also highlighted the stark contrasts across different countries and the shortcomings in much of the developed world to use digital technologies to mitigate against the impact of large external shocks (Banya et al., 2022; Mothobi & Gillwad, 2021; United Nations, 2022). Even within countries the ability to access and use ICT varies significantly across different population segments. Without improvements in accessibility and usability for marginalised groups, there is the risk that ICT developments will not translate into inclusive development and could even act as a further barrier causing a widening of inequalities both across and within countries.

To develop polices and regulations which will ensure inclusive ICT developments are a vehicle for advancing the United National 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, a deeper understanding is needed of how individuals, households and businesses interact with ICT and how this interaction impacts on their livelihoods and well-being. Whilst aggregate trends are useful in assessing progress at a macro level and identifying the impact of relevant policies and shocks, to really understand the main drivers and barriers and how they manifest for different entities it is important to have nationally representative data available on ICT accessibility and use at the individual, household, and business level.

South Africa provides a setting where data at this specific level is particularly valuable. Although an economic giant in relation to many African societies, with a well-functioning democracy and rule of law, there exist deep socio-economic inequalities which have resulted in South Africa being ranked as the most unequal country in the world (World Bank, 2022a). Despite being the focus of many national and sub-national policies and plans since the official end of apartheid in 1994, inequality is still determined by race, gender, age and geographic location, with those at the intersections of these factors being the most marginalised. This is reflected in digital inequality.

National representative demand-side surveys of individual or household, and microbusiness access and use, are essential for assessing policy outcomes and are especially in predominantly pre-paid mobile markets like South Africa the only way to obtain data that can be disaggregated by sex, education, income, geographic location – information critical to identifying the exact point of policy intervention to redress different aspect of inequality.  The first point of access into the digital world is the Internet, and so this brief focuses on high-level findings related to the ability to access the Internet across different segments of the South African population.

Suggested citation

Partridge, A. (2022). After Access 2022: Internet usage trends in South Africa. After Access 2022 Policy Brief no. 1/2023. Research ICT Africa.