South African web use surges

21 June 2007

South African internet usage is surging, a new report by internet media and market research company Nielsen/NetRatings finds, with the potential for even bigger growth in the online African language market.

Released last week, the report – “South Africa’s Exploding Internet” – states that the number of South African internet browsers increased by 121% in the last two years, from 1.8-million in May 2005 to 3.8-million in May 2007.

Over the same period, the number of South African web page “views” grew by 129%, from 91-million to 207-million.

Affordable internet connectivity has been boosted recently, with state-owned telecoms company Telkom offering ADSL and broadband, cellular operators like Vodacom and MTN offering 3G and HSDPA access, and other companies like Sentech and iBurst offering wireless broadband.

South Africa’s second fixed-line network operator, Neotel, is expected to offer similar services once it becomes fully operational.

“In terms of the number of people using the internet, the most developed markets in the Northern Hemisphere have seen a plateauing of growth over the last year or so,” says Nielsen/NetRatings analyst Alex Burmaster.

“In contrast, South Africa has seen phenomenal expansion – growing by around 50% in each of the last two years.

“This type of growth is, of course, something we have seen across all markets as the internet has taken hold and moves away from being a niche activity to a very mainstream form of media and an integral part of life.”

African language potential

The majority of South Africa’s internet population speaks English, and the vast majority of South African online content is English.

However, while the South African internet is experiencing huge growth in this area, Burmaster believes the opportunity for future “hyper-audience” growth lies in targeting African language speakers.

English is generally understood across South Africa, being the language of business, politics and the media, and the country’s lingua franca. But it only ranks joint fifth out of 11 as a home language.

According to the 2001 census, isiZulu is the mother tongue of 23.8% of South Africa’s population, followed by isiXhosa at 17.6%, Afrikaans at 13.3%, Sepedi at 9.4%, and English and Setswana each at 8.2%.

Nielsen/NetRatings’ research report made the following findings on the demographics of South African internet surfers:

  • SA’s internet population is split 54% male (2.15-million people), 45% female (1.79-million people).
  • At 1.42-million people, South Africa’s 25- to 34-year-olds are the most dominant age group, accounting for 36% of the country’s online population – closely followed by 35- to 49-year-olds (1.37 -million: 35%).
  • English is the dominant language – being the home language of around 2.10-million online South Africans (52% of SA’s internet population). Afrikaans follows at 1.11-million (28% of SA’s internet population).

Burmaster says South Africa’s internet population is more concentrated around 25- to 49-year-olds than is the case in other English-speaking internet countries.

“In South Africa this group makes up around 70% of the internet population, compared to less than 50% in the UK, around 45% in Australia and 40% in the US,” he said.

SAinfo reporter

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