The Internet has become an indispensable element in peoples' lives in the 21st century. South Africa is no exception. The Internet user base in South Africa increased from 2.4 million in 2000 to 12.3 million in 2012. The increasing number of internet users presents great opportunities for online businesses.
A photographer I met at the Apartheid museum in Johannesburg told me that since products are cheaper online than in physical stores, he bought his Canon camera and all the accessories from Ebay, which were shipped from a seller in the United States. I learned that as the Internet has become widespread in South Africa in recent years, more people realize the competitive pricing online and begin to shop there. I also learned from an Uber driver in Cape Town that young people in South Africa are more willing to use the Uber app on their phones to call a taxi, instead of the traditional way of hailing on the street.
The increasing availability of internet access and willingness to integrate the Internet with shopping experiences in South Africa show that the internet business model has great potential in South Africa and could be a key driver of future economic growth. Take Alibaba Inc. in China as an example. The company started its first business-to-business (B2B) online platform when China was in the early stage of growing the number of internet users in 1999. Within the five-year period in which the number of Chinese internet users grew exponentially, Alibaba expanded its business and created a customer-to-customer (C2C) online shopping platform, which is now the largest C2C platform in China.
Currently, South Africa is experiencing what China was experiencing in 1999: a substantial increase in internet users and curiosity surrounding new technology. The political environment is also surprisingly similar. While China was in its 21st year of “New China” in 1999, South Africa is now in its 21st year of democracy. These similarities show that if South Africa can take advantage of growing internet access to innovate an internet business model, it will achieve huge economic growth in the future, like China did.
However, it is urgent to address the education and government corruption issues because internet business growth requires well-educated, innovative individuals to start new internet business models and it also needs the government to continuously support internet infrastructures.