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MTN, Naspers commit multibillion-rand investments in SA

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 07 Nov 2019
SA is open for business.
SA is open for business.

Tech companies MTN and Naspers yesterday made commitments to invest in SA, during the ongoing South Africa Investment Conference being held at the Sandton Convention Centre.

Heeding president Cyril Ramaphosa’s call and reassurance that SA is open for business, several companies yesterday took turns to avail a combined R133 billion to be ploughed into the country’s stagnant economy.

The figure adds to the R300 billion investments announced at last year’s first SA Investment Conference, in which the president announced his intention to attract R1.2 trillion over five years.

Shortly after Ramaphosa’s address yesterday morning, businesses took turns at the podium announcing investments.

Mobile operator MTN has committed to invest R50 billion in SA over the next five years.

In an e-mail to ITWeb, MTN Group says: “MTN will invest R50 billion over the next five years towards infrastructure that will enable a series of digital and financial inclusion initiatives across South Africa.”

The company notes that over the next five years, in SA, it will spend R10 billion per year on capital investment.

Naspers SA CEO Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa.
Naspers SA CEO Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa.

“The main focus is on rolling out the digital infrastructure, networks, connectivity, high-speed highways that South Africa is going to need to move even further into the digital age.

Operations support

According to MTN, the second portion is the capital investment input into the group where the company is building properties, investments, platforms and systems, and employing people that will support its 21 operations and the 244 million customers that it serves across Africa and the Middle East.

“We are an absolute believer that SA is going to rise and prosper in the years ahead; to this end, we wish to contribute to the growth and development of the country, especially with respect to enabling digital and financial inclusion efforts across the country as we believe everyone deserves the benefits of a modern connected life,” the company says.

“We’ve got a fast-growing, youthful population; there’ll be a more than 50 million population growth in the next few years and 60% of the population under the age of 25. This will mean rapid adoption of data, digital and fintech services from current low levels as well as high growth in the developing enterprise and wholesale sectors.”

The investment commitment comes after MTN SA CEO Godfrey Motsa recently told ITWeb the company is placing job creation and small and medium enterprise development at the centre of its future plans in all countries in which it operates.

Naspers’ reaffirmation

Also at the South Africa Investment Conference yesterday, Naspers SA CEO Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa reaffirmed the company’s commitment to drive more investment in backing South African tech founders and entrepreneurs, during a panel discussion.

“We have never lost sight of the fact that Naspers was founded in South Africa. We are the largest company on the JSE and South Africa is an important market for us,” explained Mahanyele-Dabengwa.

“That’s why we established the Naspers Foundry – a South Africa focused tech-business funding initiative — with a R1.4 billion (roughly $100 million) commitment to back promising entrepreneurs in South Africa.”

Of the total R4.6 billion commitment the company announced last year, which includes the R1.4 billion for Naspers Foundry, the group has so far invested R1.3 billion of its original pledge in its existing South Africa businesses – Takealot, Mr D Food and Superbalist, as well as Media24 and OLX.

Naspers Foundry made its first investment of R30 million in online cleaning services company Sweepsouth in June. This female founder-led business has created 15 000 jobs for domestic cleaners.

“We understand digitisation is directly linked to economic potential and that developing new platforms is a means to making South Africa more competitive on the global stage,” Mahanyele-Dabengwa said.

“But I also firmly believe it is not only about the businesses we build; we – as investors and corporate entities — need to make sure we are supporting the country itself.”

MTN SA CEO Godfrey Motsa.
MTN SA CEO Godfrey Motsa.

Mahanyele-Dabengwa said Naspers Foundry’s investments would have to address bigger societal needs and help stimulate the South African economy and tackle youth unemployment, respectively.

She believes a unique blend of the best of technology with the best of human endeavour will unlock the full potential of South Africa’s young people.

To address unemployment in impoverished communities, the company launched Naspers Labs, a social impact programme to help young, unemployed South Africans to open doors to their first employment opportunity.

The labs provide a structured development journey enabling students to realise their potential and tap into online learning platforms, including those that Naspers has invested in, such as Udemy, Codecademy and SoloLearn.

To date, more than 1 500 youths have passed through the programme, with 79% of graduates securing their first job.

“For me and for Naspers, digital transformation is a means to enable countries such as South Africa to leapfrog legacy structures. Digital enablement can only happen in companies that attract and develop highly talented people with strong digital and analytics capabilities. If we can’t find them, we must develop them,” she said.

“We can no longer say that technology is the future; it is the present. And our investment strategy will make it an economic reality.”