After Access: The State of ICT in South Africa

Series 5: After Access-Assessing digital inequality in Africa
Policy Paper no. 5: The State of ICT in South Africa

Increasing Internet connections suggests a bridging of the digital divide yet, as more people are connected, digital inequality paradoxically increases. Inequality exists not only between people online and offline, but also between those who have the skills and financial resources to use the Internet optimally, and those who do not. Without policy interventions to reduce these disparities offline inequalities will simply be mirrored online – or potentially even amplified. Many individuals and households do not use the Internet or do not have the devices to access the Internet.

RIA’s 2017 After Access Survey finds that South Africa has the highest mobile phone (84%) and Internet penetration rates (53%) of the seven countries surveyed, but not when compared with all sixteen countries surveyed across the Global South.

The survey findings indicate that technological forms of exclusion are a reality form significant segments of the South African population, and that digital exclusion reinforces and deepens existing social exclusion reflected in low income, unemployment, poor education and social isolation. In the case of South Africa, a society with more pronounced income and educational inequalities, the Survey shows that despite the hype around smartphones connecting the poor, the digital divide between the poor and the rich is significant. Furthermore, the data shows that while the digital gap between men and women is diminishing it persists.

Highlights from the study include:

  • Although South Africa has far more Internet users than other African countries, half of the population is still offline. The 50 percent that are online earn more than ZAR 7 167 a month.
  • Data prices remain unaffordable to the majority of people in South Africa, where 47% of the population does not use the Internet.
  • Despite numerous public hearings on the cost of data, the new regulations announced by ICASA do not address this significant problem.
  • The lack of Internet-enabled devices and digital literacy, both of which are associated with poverty, are the main barriers to getting online.
  • Mobile phone penetration among owners of informal and/or small businesses is very high (93%), yet less than a fifth of them use of mobile phones for business processes and management.
  •  A perceived lack of need for the Internet as well as it being unaffordable are the main inhibitors of internet use among small and informal businesses.
  • The 2017 After Access Survey shows that in the seven countries surveyed, the microwork penetration rate is as low as 2 percent, with only 7 percent of Internet users doing micro-work. Only 10% of Internet users in South Africa do platform-work.

This report was made possible by the support received from Canada’s International Development Research Centre and the South African Domain Name Authority (ZADNA). The nationally representative ICT access and use survey referenced in this report forms part of a survey of 16 countries in the Global South (seven in Africa) that canvasses barriers to access from those not connected, as well as the challenges to optimalInternet usage even where there is coverage or the individual has connectivity (seeAfter Access 2017). The authors thank Charley Lewis for peer reviewing, but errors and omissions remain those of the authors.

Suggested citation

Gillwald, A., Mothobi, O., & Rademan, B. (2018). The State of ICT in South Africa (Policy Paper No. 5; Series 5: After Access-Assessing Digital Inequality in Africa). Research ICT Africa.