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Uptick in South Africa’s cellphone, internet access

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 07 Dec 2021

In South Africa, 89.4% of households exclusively use cellular phones, according to Statistics South Africa’s (Stats SA’s) General Household Survey (GHS) for 2020.

By comparison, the proportion of households that used only cellular phones as a means of communication was 87.8% in 2019.

The recently released Stats SA survey shows that only 1.8% of households did not have access to either landlines or cellular phones nationally.

Use of landlines also continued to dwindle in the South African market, with only 0.5% of households using this type of telecommunication tool, according to the survey.

The survey shows the exclusive use of cellphones was most common in the Eastern Cape (96.4%) and lowest in Western Cape (84.2%).

“Households that had higher usage of both cellular phones and landlines were most common in the more prosperous provinces, namely Western Cape (12.2%) and Gauteng (9.8%).”

Now in its 19th year, the Stats SA GHS survey tracks the progress of development in the country,as well as the extent of service delivery and the quality of services in a number of sectors. The target population of the survey consists of all private households and residents in workers’ hostels across all nine provinces of South Africa.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the national statistical service suspended face-to-face data collection and changed the mode of collecting GHS 2020 data from computer-assisted personal interviews to computer-assisted telephone interviews (CATI). Data collection for the CATI GHS 2020 took place between September and December 2020.

Much like the rest of the world, internet connectivity was elevated in South Africa amid the pandemic, with more than 70% of households accessing the internet.

According to the GHS survey, 74.1% of South African households had at least one member who had access to, or used the internet at locations such as their homes, work, place of study, internet cafés, or public hotspots.

This marks an increase from the 63% of households with internet access on a national level in 2019, with at least one member of the household with access to the internet and mainly through mobile device.

At provincial level, access to the internet using all available means was highest in Gauteng at 85.2%, followed by the Western Cape with 80.9%, and Mpumalanga with 77.6%, according to Stats SA.

Conversely, the lowest proportion of households with access to the internet was Limpopo with 58.4% and the Eastern Cape with 61.2%.

Less than 10% (8.3%) of South African households had access to fixed internet at home, notes the survey.

“Communication plays an important role in the fundamental operation of a society. It links people and businesses, facilitating communication and the flow of ideas and information, and coordinating economic activities and development.”

When broken down in terms of access to the internet by place, the survey found that household access to the internet at home was highest among households in Western Cape (20.3%) and Gauteng (14.2%), and lowest in North West (1.0%).

While 14% of households in metropolitan areas had access to the internet at home, this was true for only 0.8% of rural households in general and less than 1% of rural households in Gauteng (0.0%), Eastern Cape (0.1%), North West (0.3%) and KwaZulu-Natal (0.4%).

The survey shows a larger percentage of households access the internet at work (17.5%) and internet cafés or at educational institutions (17.6%) than at home, which is at 8.3%.

“Households in Gauteng (27.3%) and KwaZulu-Natal (20.3%) were most likely to access the internet at work, while those in Limpopo (5.9%) were least likely to do so.

“Using mobile devices to access the internet includes access on cellular telephones or using mobile access devices such as 3G cards.”

According to the report, mobile access to the internet has made it much more accessible to households in rural areas. “Nationally, internet access using mobile devices (64.1%) was much more common than access at home (8.3%), at work (17.5%) and elsewhere (17.6%).

“Although the use of mobile internet access devices in rural areas (52.9%) still lags behind its use in urban (7.6%) and metro areas (66.8%), it is much more common in rural areas than any of the alternative methods.”