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May 9, 2019

Powering start-up culture in South Africa

Smartgov for Citizens, startups

By Xolile Ndlangana, Marketing Director at Boxfusion

Developing countries, like South Africa, face a range of unique challenges not experienced in our more developed counterparts. These concerns range from a lack of infrastructure, to the marketing and trading of services, and exchanging money without carrying cash.

In the Digital Age, and increasingly across the continent of Africa, small tech start-ups are successfully developing solutions to these localised challenges where large, international solutions
continue to fail.

Take for example Kenya’s cashless payment system, M-Pesa, which has moved Kenyan traders into a cashless system since its launch in 2007. With a lack of faith in financial institutions, or limited access to these, as well as the risk of carrying cash, M-Pesa has provided Kenyans with a local, mobile solution that empowers them to transact and send cash home through the ubiquity of cellphones. The success of this solution speaks for itself, with over 19 million users in Kenya alone (it’s also available in Tanzania and South Africa,
amongst others).

While Uber may have disrupted driving across the globe, ride sharing in Nigeria has taken the form of local solution, GoMyWay, which not only offers a more reliable and inexpensive way to travel, but also assists with the heavy traffic and bottlenecking experienced in densely populated cities like Lagos.

There are plenty of start-up technologies that link Africans to essential services through trading and health platforms, such as Hemo, Kuba, Thrive Agric, Matibabu and Boxfusion’s Smartgov for Citizens app. This South African solution has been rolled out to the O.R Tambo municipality in the Eastern Cape, as well as Ekurhuleni in Gauteng, with great success. It connects ordinary citizens to essential government services, like emergency, water, maintenance and more. In the Eastern Cape, being able to use a mobile phone to alert emergency services to a crisis in a rural area, using the USSD feature without need for airtime or data, has literally saved lives.

These kinds of homegrown solutions are impacting the lives of Africans for the better. But it is essential that in order for their growth and success to continue, they receive support from and backing by local governments. Fortunately for the South African tech industry, our current administration has recognised the key role start-ups can play in stimulating the local economy.

Earlier this year, as part of his SONA address, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the creation of digital hubs and incubators in townships which will “provide much needed entrepreneurial service to small and medium enterprises in rural areas.” This could see more of our local tech talent taking their creations and solutions to the streets, and we could see South Africa explode with innovation, as we move deeper into the Digital Age.

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