Only one-third of South Africa’s population used the internet in 2012, according to a December report from the South African Network Society Project (SANSS) at the University of Witwatersrand, conducted by Research ICT Africa (RIA). Despite that low number, penetration was still more than double eMarketer’s estimate for the Middle East and Africa overall in 2012, at 15.7% of the total population.
The makeup of internet users in South Africa skews extremely young. The study found that nearly three-quarters of the total internet population were between the ages of 15 and 34. Unsurprisingly, internet users were also more likely to be wealthy; almost three out of five internet users came from the middle- to high-income range. Still a notable two out of five internet users were low income or lived below the poverty line, suggesting that the internet is beginning to reach a wider swath of the country.
In a similar vein, SANSS also reported that 46% of the internet population was female—a sign that the gender gap is beginning to close.
As in other developing internet markets, access is primarily on mobile phones. The report put ownership of internet-capable mobile phones at 15.7 million vs. 6.4 million consumers who owned a computer. Not all owners of internet-capable mobile phones have internet access on the devices, but propensity to access via mobile is much higher among these users.
Internet cafes are also an important access point for internet users, with one-third reporting that they went online at these locations.
Barriers to internet use remain high in the country; many report that the internet is too expensive or that they have no way to access it. But internet use has already more than doubled in the last four years, according to the report, and SANSS predicted that by 2016 two out of three people in the country could be online.
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