Liquid secures R900m loan funding for fibre expansion

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 16 Nov 2023
From left: Nana Phiri, head of corporate client group at RMB; Hardy Pemhiwa, group CEO of Liquid Intelligent Technologies; and Sarvesh Suri, IFC Africa regional industry director for infrastructure and natural resources.
From left: Nana Phiri, head of corporate client group at RMB; Hardy Pemhiwa, group CEO of Liquid Intelligent Technologies; and Sarvesh Suri, IFC Africa regional industry director for infrastructure and natural resources.

Pan-African digital infrastructure provider Liquid Intelligent Technologies has secured R900 million loan funding from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) to expand internet access to underserved areas of SA.

During the announcement made at Africa Tech Festival 2023 in Cape Town yesterday, the company said the funds will support universal and affordable broadband access through the Eastern Cape Fibre Project and help accelerate its other connectivity initiatives across SA.

The Eastern Cape Fibre Project aims to significantly increase access to high-quality digital connectivity for businesses, government and other organisations in the province.

The company is building a 7 000km fibre network in the Eastern Cape, to connect the municipalities and citizens of SA’s least-connected province.

Beyond this project, the investment will strengthen the integration of the digital ecosystem in SA, facilitating e-government services and connecting underserved areas.

As high-speed internet infrastructure expands, it will create jobs and stimulate SA’s economic growth, says Liquid.

“The support and investment we have received from IFC and RMB underscore our collective commitment to advancing SA's broadband connectivity and uplifting the communities in which we do business,” says Hardy Pemhiwa, group CEO of Liquid Intelligent Technologies.

“Not only will this investment from RMB and IFC help fund the expansion of our fibre backbone network in the Eastern Cape, but also help us upskill more South Africans and create employment. We believe this collaboration sets a new benchmark for the financing and development of digital infrastructure in South Africa.”

According to Liquid, this investment is a milestone in realising its vision to contribute to creating a digitally-connected Africa that is empowered through connectivity, in which no one is left behind. By accelerating its local strategy, the loan funding will have a significant impact on the country's digital economy, it says.

RMB and IFC each contributed R450 million towards the loan funding.

Speaking to ITWeb on the sidelines of Africa Tech Festival 2023, Deon Geyser, CEO of Liquid Intelligent Technologies, said the Eastern Cape is one of the least connected regions in South Africa.

He noted that only 65% of households have internet access, and only 5% have access from home.

The Eastern Cape Fibre Project − part of a partnership between the State Information Technology Agency, Liquid and the Eastern Cape Provincial Government − is expected to deliver high-speed internet services.

“We’ve built 2 000km of fibre so far, and we have 5 000km to go. We expect that by June 2025, we would have competed our target of deploying 7 000km of fibre across the Eastern Cape province.

“We’ve connected 1 300 government buildings with fibre and we’re connecting another 500 with 4G APN [Access Point Name] until the fibre arrives in those areas. So far, we have been able to deliver on e-government services and we’ve achieved some quick wins since inception of the project,” explained Geyser.

Liquid says it has invested over R400 million in extending its operations in the region and creating over 600 permanent and temporary jobs, since the project began.

The initiative comes as government is expediting the second phase of its SA Connect broadband project, to connect schools, health facilities and government offices, among other amenities.

Deon Geyser, CEO of Liquid Intelligent Technologies.
Deon Geyser, CEO of Liquid Intelligent Technologies.

Liquid, a business of Cassava Technologies, provides customised digital solutions to public and private sector enterprises and SMEs across the continent.

It has a 110 000km-long fibre broadband network and satellite connectivity that provides high-speed internet access across Africa.

The company also provides cloud and cyber security solutions through partnerships with global players.

Last March, Liquid announced it had acquired a fibre pair on the Google Equiano subsea cable, which would allow it to transport traffic up to 12-Terabits, bringing a much-needed increase in international connectivity in Western and Southern Africa.

“Digital connectivity that is inclusive and accessible is a fundamental driver of economic growth and an informed society,” says Sarvesh Suri, IFC regional industry director for infrastructure and natural resources, Africa.

"Through our partnership with Liquid South Africa, we are committed to narrowing the digital divide in the Eastern Cape and expanding internet access to underserved areas.”

The investment from the IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, is the latest contribution to the collaboration it entered into with Liquid, aimed at increasing digital connectivity and inclusion in Africa and supporting the region’s growing digital ecosystem.

Nana Phiri, head of corporate client group at RMB, adds: “RMB is proud to have been the co-arranger and funder for the Eastern Cape Fibre Project, to help enable access to information communication technology for communities in the province.

“All people should have access to the power of the digital world to better their lives. We believe in partnering with our clients, who are vested in digital inclusion to narrow the digital divide and counteract the negative social consequences of digital exclusion. We look forward to working on similar transactions across the continent.”