The State of the Internet in South Africa (July 2017)

Published July 2017

Presentation for the Internet and Social Media submit in Cape Town July 2017

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

I wrote this keynote talk and then one week prior to the event the submit was, unfortunately, cancelled.

I have decided to post it online because I am not sure if I will make the next SM submit.

For those of you who do not know who I am, here’s a quick background highlight to give context to what I’m about to say so that you can assign value to my opinions.

Let’s start right in the beginning,

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

This is me with international illusionist, David Copperfield. I started my career with a very unique foundation. I was born in Cape Town, schooled at a Catholic school and am the oldest of nine children. Perhaps more, I’d only know if my dad were cornered and attached to a lie-detector. I started working at kiddie parties as a magician, having studied at the College of Magic in Cape Town, with the likes of local entertainment, Riaad Moosa, Stuart Taylor and Conrad Koch to name a few.

From parties I progressed quite easily to events and started my first events company while still in high-school. I invoiced my first million by age 19, and my first big client was SAB in Newlands.

From there I went into event marketing.

Around the same time I also started an NGO, working with SAPS and street children.

I then moved to marketing in general, then web-marketing and then strategy, management and scenarios.

SA Online is my second company. My first company failed. I have more or less maintained a 50% ratio on all my projects.

I am content with this fact. It’s not bad at all. I never studied a day in my life, I just wanted to get out and work.

I started SA Online over a decade ago, using a business model from a travel agency selling tours to Botswana. I added theory to an industry and it was natural for me to start with an entertainment agency, which was the first division of SA Online.

My second division at SA Online was website design and hosting, which I started because I was unhappy with the service I was receiving from other designers, and I was convinced I could run their companies better.

My third division dealt with law, which came from my interest in the field, owed to mom who was a paralegal for over two decades.

Then came photography and videography as my fourth division.

Another division was established for PR, TV and productions, which involved adverts and endorsements.

Then came property…and a few other fields.

WWhat’s interesting is that few people actually know what my company is. That’s because I am service orientated. I never punt the name of the company. I accepted that my clients care more about service delivery than me…Harsh but true.

The nature of a web-shopper is normally someone who is a bargain hunter or wants a fast, convenient service, so that is what I focussed on.

I enjoy meeting clients for the first time and surprising them when they see their references on my client page.

I had no experience in 99% of the industries I worked in before I started. All of which operated purely on the Internet. Each division tweaked to suit the service. I was extremely good at finding web traffic and then building a system to convert visitors into billable clients.

While working on all of these divisions, I also partook in countless other projects. I have worked in the debt industry, travel and tourism, logistics, mining, e-com and even selling teddy-bears made of departed loved-ones’ clothing…It was a small, odd project for a client in Simon’s Town. Any industry you can think of, I’ve had my finger in the pie.

Today I am responsible for the online presence of around 600 companies, most of whom have no idea who I am by name.

I am running around 5-7 marketing campaigns for SA Online.

I travel for work, mostly within Africa.

At any one time I have 2-4 projects pending; new divisions and concepts I am working on.

I live and work between Cape Town and Johannesburg and still manage to keep four pot plants alive.

About seven months ago I started a website, the one this article is on, and Facebook page about my areas of interest in work as well as my experience. It has nothing to do with my company but is in preparation for the private consultancy I intend to open in five to ten years, and I’m already sitting on 22 000 followers.

That’s me in a nutshell. This article also expresses how I have ended up here today to talk about the state of the Internet in South Africa, with focus on SMMEs and what an honour it is to be invited to speak.

So let’s get going!

I like to refer to South Africa as an aluminium calabash.

For those of you who don’t know, a calabash is used in the making of the West African kora, which is a harp lute…a traditional fiddle.

Aluminium is a metal that is extracted by Danish chemists and is famous for its low density and extreme strength.

So an aluminium calabash is something that has attributes of both local culture and western world advantages. A mixture of worlds. Now if you try bond the raw materials of a Calabash and aluminium together, you going to need an adhesive.

This is because we are a country fighting to keep our many cultures alive and strong, while enjoying the benefits of the western world.

That can create conflict, so we are in flux.

A nation with internal, political, social, and every other kind of conflict you can imagine it is a given. The only constant in SA is that no matter what the subject of debate, there will be an opposing point-of-view.

Why I even mention this comparison is to lay the foundation for my opinion; that being, South Africa will never fail.

Or, fully succeed.

In order to do something, we need to actually make a majority decision and take a majority direction and move with it.

If every fish caught in a net swims in a different direction the net will go nowhere, but if every fish in the net swims in the same direction, the net will move….

With that said, my point and opinion is that an indecisive environment, like South Africa, has its opportunities for business.

This is if you are smart and think like a fox, which is what Clem Sunter, a well-known futurologist and scenario planner says. He lives in Cape Town and for whom I actually do web marketing. I also web market for several economists, like Mike Schussler and JP Landman.

In indecisive environments there is a lack of regulatory control. One example is the cost of Internet cell phone data in this country…Great for big businesses but not great for the little guy…and definitely not good for SMMEs.

There are many opportunities in South Africa, to use the Internet and support businesses. Better yet, start a supplementary income. Gone are the days in which we could survive off a single income.

Even better than that, start a new business of your own entirely.

So, why in this environment do we see so few start-ups on the Internet in SA? And why do those we do see not last?

Why does Cape Town host an e-commerce conference each year but none of the major role-players who help develop e-commerce attends?

Why is there not a larger government presence at these sorts of events?

Another challenge that we face in general is that our population uses the Internet socially, not for business. The Internet is not seen as a business tool in South Africa.

Most data usage in South Africa is used on WhatsApp…followed by Facebook. Both use more data than all businesses in SA.

We are a social Internet nation. This has pros and cons, because, as years go by, Facebook is indirectly exposing us to each other’s cultures and different likes.

Unbeknown to us, we are actually a less divided nation on the Internet than we are in parliament. This is because on the Internet the focus is on LIKES and not dislikes. I find that fact fascinating.

So, what about business?

Absolutely not enough is being done. The opportunities make me so excited.

But then as quickly as I get excited, I get disappointed; when business owners have no idea what SEO, Adwords or social media marketing is. No idea how to run a web campaign, how to add content, how to create web videos.

Our population has 2.2 plus cell phones per person. That’s over 80 million active sim card connections.

If data costs could drop, we will have a new gold rush opportunity.

Our population and that of Africa, in general, is so spread out.

In some cases access to people is only possible via the Internet on cell phones.

Access to Internet in South Africa is possible. We have good Internet penetration opportunities.

The average young person in South Africa spends 15% of their income on cell phones.

In order to have success and harness the Internet, we need to embrace the aluminium calabash!

We need to find that adhesive.

The adhesive is a Mind-Set…Nothing more.

Accept that most jobs in the future will not come from big companies. It will come from small 1-3 people businesses. Most of which will use the Internet to sell and provide.

This means, at some point, every person leaving school will all start a small business of sorts.

But then education will have to change because it is designed to prepare us to play a small part in a big business…Not start our own company.

I would very much like to engage with the department of education on this task; teaching web marketing as a tool for business careers.

We could create a youth with the tools required to excel in the future; not only locally, but internationally.

It cost me R3000 to start my web design company using a PPC campaign. It is now the market leader for its target clients, concluding over 2000 projects yearly. That means I have directly been involved with over 14 000 companies’ online presence. Most of which have no idea who I am.

What did Bill Gates invent? Nothing. Nothing at all.

I didn’t invent any of the services I work on.

We don’t need to invent. We need to know how to innovate. Make something better.

Every day-to-day frustration can become a business opportunity. The Internet allows for low capital start-ups as well as quick returns and immediate, direct access to clients.

The cost to set-up and run a small e-commerce business for an entire year is, in most cases, a similar price as one month’s rent and deposit for a store in a shopping mall.

A web company can also allow for passive income as well as recurring income opportunities.

Free Wi-Fi zones are being rolled out across our country. You could, if you had to, start a company at a bus-stop or bench at a shopping centre with little more than a cell phone.

We still have no restrictions to information in South Africa. So we have access to all platforms.

Our rand is weak and the Internet gives advantage to us who want international clients ready to spend currency with even a small company or individual.

We even allow the use of digital currencies in SA. Meaning, you don’t even need a bank account to start certain web companies.

The world is moving into automation, employment will rise. This is a fact …

We are moving into a global era in which borders will no longer be something we find on maps but on the Internet.


We will soon have digital citizens of the world. It’s going to happen.

What are our biggest problems?

  • Understanding and training. How to start a web company and how to market a web company.
  • Access to affordable data.
  • Competition with big businesses, which, in some cases, have direct support from our government.
  • Cybercrime and crime in general.

South Africa accounts for 50% of Africa’s Internet usage. We have around 27 million people using the Internet. If you take all of Africa’s usage, it is less than 18% of the world’s usage.

We have seven primary providers for Internet in South Africa, involved at different levels of service delivery. More than half of them have an invested interest from government. One of which is paying over 5 billion in collective taxes into our state coffers.

South Africa is around the 20th cheapest country to live and work worldwide, but we have the highest package data Internet costs.

Over 50% of our Internet usage is used by people with an income of between 16 000.00 and 70 000.00 per month; the majority of which work for big businesses.

Around 28% of South Africa’s workforce is unemployed, but they have 2.2 cell phones.

Therefore, to summarize the state of the Internet in South Africa, setting aside all the technical jargon, which you can read on some of my other posts, I would say the true state is…an opportunity waiting to happen…if we change our mind-sets.

It could even be the solution to employment in South Africa.

Published July 2017

Read more articles


  • While I attempt to ensure information is accurate and up-to-date at time of publication, I will not accept liability should information be used, and found to be incorrect. If you do see an error, please let me know.
  • The links, images, videos and/ or text from this article are not necessarily under my direct management, ownership or care. Should you be the owner or manager of any content herein, and wish for the content to be removed, please let me know and it will be done.