Software development in South Africa – a brief history

Like many other industries, software development in South Africa has been shaped by the country’s troubled past, its hopeful future and the entrepreneurial spirit of its citizens.

Under apartheid, access to personal computers was restricted among the non-white majority. When the ANC was elected in 1994, the party saw information and communications technology as a way to empower previously disadvantaged groups, and the development of science and technology as a way for South Africa to participate in the global knowledge community.

Unfortunately, the high cost of data and lack of fixed line infrastructure, especially in rural areas, has limited access to the internet for many South Africans. However, these challenges have led to innovations like Mxit – an instant messaging service released in 2005 that could run on GPRS on feature phones, and which had around 7.4 million monthly users at its peak.

Another more recent example of South African innovation is the rise of mobile POS systems like Yoco, driven by the proliferation of informal convenience stores throughout the country. These solutions allow entrepreneurs to run their businesses from, and receive payments on, their mobile devices.

Notable South Africans in tech

Mark Shuttleworth was one of the developers of the Debian operating system and in 1995, he founded Thawte, an internet security company. He also founded the Shuttleworth Foundation in 2001, which is a nonprofit organisation dedicated to social innovation. It also funds educational, free and open source software projects in South Africa.

Elon Musk, who was raised in Pretoria before emigrating to the US at 17, has become a household name around the world. He co-founded in 1999, which was one of the world’s first online banks and later became Paypal. Musk has since founded companies focused on space travel, self-driving cars and renewable energy, and is one of the richest people in the world.

Proudly South African

South Africa still has a way to go to achieve equality for all its citizens. Thanks to initiatives providing poorer communities with access to software development, as well as advances in mobile communications technology, the tech industry continues to flourish and bridge the divide between the privileged and the previously disadvantaged.
Netgen has been operating since 2000 and we are proud of the contributions we have made to software development in South Africa. If you’re in the market for custom software solutions, contact us today.

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