Cape Town - In 2017, South Africa's internet-connected population is set to grow to 22.5 million users - almost half of the country's population figure of 55.9 million people, a report has found.
The internet user population reached the 21 million mark last year and for many new users the entry point is via smart phones which are relatively affordable and was a better buy for many people than an ordinary cellphone, said managing director of business research company World Wide Worx (WWW) Arthur Goldstuck.
"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. For this reason, it is critical that the country prioritise the roll-out of infrastructure in underserved areas, especially outside the major metropolitan areas," said Reshaad Sha, executive director of internet company Dark Fibre Africa (DFA).
Improving connectivity in all areas in South Africa required a partnership between private enterprise and government, said Goldstuck.
The report released by WWW and DFA found that most South Africans, some 31%, used the internet for communication, 24.9% for social media, 23.7% for information and 22.1% for entertainment.
"While communication is the single most important use, email is reported by only 16.1% of respondents, indicating that it is becoming a less important element of the communications mix as social media becomes a default channel," the report stated.
Only 15.2% of respondents cited shopping and finance as their reason for using the internet which confirmed previous WWW research that e-commerce "was still not a major element of South African retail in general".
"The findings emphasise the potential of the Internet to enhance lives when we have greater penetration across all segments and demographics. 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," Goldstuck said.
Mostly middle to upper income earners used the internet for e-commerce, Goldstuck said.
"Most South Africans don’t have enough internet experience and that accounts for the nervousness and lack of confidence when it comes to using the internet for financial or retail activities."