Only 716 000 of the world’s 26.8 million developers are based in Africa, but SA has the most developers on the continent – and the promise of a thriving local tech startup scene, says Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa.
As the year comes to a close, I look back and reflect on the year that was, the humbling lessons I learnt as a leader, and what I look forward to in 2024.
African leaders, like many other global leaders, have had to navigate a volatile landscape with each day presenting a new chapter. Earlier this year, I had the privilege of attending the World Economic Forum, the BRICS Summit, and the Financial Times Africa Summit. The events gathered a prestigious lineup of blue-chip companies, policymakers, and great minds from across the world, for productive discussions about the most pressing challenges, aspirations, and also opportunities. From harnessing critical minerals and trading with Africa to financial transformation and Africa’s digital future.
All the forums highlighted the much-talked-about promises on the continent and made clear the unprecedented global interest in Africa’s future. For South Africa in particular, these discussions come at a critical juncture. As a country, we are navigating a range of interconnected challenges, including low economic growth, an ongoing energy crisis, continued infrastructure constraints, and unacceptably high levels of inequality and unemployment.
These are very real challenges, but South Africa still has enormous potential to achieve meaningful, inclusive economic growth. As I reflected on this, the collective power of the South African business community is central to the country achieving its goals – working at pace to use its combined resources and expertise to partner, assist and build initiatives aimed at rapidly turning the flywheel and pivoting our country’s direction.
A great example was when CEOs from more than 130 of South Africa’s leading corporations signed the BUSA and B4SA pledge underpinning their collective belief in South Africa, and their determination to assist in realising its potential. The scale and diversity of the companies and CEOs behind this pledge is unprecedented, with a combined market cap of R11 trillion, employing more than 1.3 million people.
Of course, with our country’s population growth now outpacing economic growth, we cannot speak about the future of South Africa or Africa without prioritising job creation for young people. South Africa’s population has risen to more than 62 million people (2022), an increase of 19.8% since 2011.
The majority of the population, at 61.2%, is currently under 35 years old, but 8.8 million young people are not in employment, education, or training.
Technology holds the key to unlocking the continent’s demographic dividend. In South Africa alone, digitisation is projected to create more than 1.2 million jobs by 2030. South Africans are some of the most voracious global users, with an internet penetration of 72.3%, spending on average 9.5 hours per day on the internet. Our nation’s technological landscape is further distinguished by our commendable mobile internet stability. Despite our country’s internet speed lagging behind the global average, we have been actively enhancing connectivity, ranking 68th in digital quality of life globally in 2021.
As the most connected generation of South Africans in history, our young people are at the centre of unleashing greater productivity and propelling the economic trajectory of the country and continent forward. For example, the continent severely lacks software developers in comparison to the rest of the world.
Only 716 000 of the world’s 26.8 million developers are based in Africa. Herein lies an opportunity for the world’s youngest population. Importantly, South Africa has the most developers on the continent at 17%, demonstrating the promise of a thriving local tech startup scene.
I believe, that through a joint effort, South Africa stands in a unique position to reap the benefits of our young and growing population, increasing urbanisation, digitisation and improving infrastructure. Access to technology is a very powerful catalyst for inclusive growth. That is why our ecommerce platforms enable local entrepreneurs to scale their businesses, provides consumers with products and services that they can compare online, and the tools that democratises education through online learning. We also open doors to the digital economy and vital financial services that were once out of reach for hundreds of millions of people around the world.
Looking into 2024, the business community together with civil society, academia and government must actively work together to leverage technology for greater economic inclusion and growth. Together, and with the right conditions in place for technology to play a more advanced catalytic role, we can contribute to the economic resurgence of our country and the continent at large.
Mahanyele-Dabengwa is South Africa CEO at Naspers, and Director of the Vodacom
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