Introduction to South Africa

An overview of South Africa's currency, population and key statistics.

Cash currency

South Africa's official currency is the rand, represented by the symbol R and the code ZAR. A rand is subdivided into 100 cents, denoted by the letter "c." Coins come in a range of denominations, starting from 5 cents and moving up to 10, 20, and 50 cents, followed by 1-, 2-, and 5-rand coins. Banknotes in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200 rands are available for larger transactions.

Digital currency

South Africa has yet to introduce a digital currency. However, the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) has expressed its interest in exploring the concept of a digital rand. In the event of its implementation, the central bank would back this digital rand, and its value would be equivalent to that of the traditional rand. This innovative currency would exist solely in digital form, unlike physical money, which comes in the form of notes and coins. It is intended to complement cash rather than replace it.

Population

South Africa had an estimated population of 60.4 million in 2023. The country's annual population growth rate is approximately 0.87%, placing it as the world's 24th most populous nation. The median age is 27.6 years. A South African woman has 2.3 live births on average during her lifetime. The combined life expectancy for both sexes is 62.9 years, with women expected to live up to 65.7 years and men expected to live up to 59.9 years. Unfortunately, the country has a rate of 26.8 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. Roughly 69% or 41.7 million South Africans live in cities. The population density is approximately 50 people per square kilometre.

Languages

South Africa has 12 official languages: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Sesotho sa Leboa (also known as Northern Sotho or Pedi), Sesotho (also known as Southern Sotho), siSwati, Xitsonga, Setswana, Tshivenda, isiXhosa, isiZulu, and South African Sign Language. All of these languages have equal legal weight and are used in parliamentary proceedings and government communications. Most South Africans speak at least two of the country's official languages.

Key statistics

South Africa experienced a significant economic transformation in 2023. The first quarter saw a resurgence in real gross domestic product growth, reaching 0.4%, following a 1.1% decline in the fourth quarter of 2022. Economic projections point towards a steady upward trajectory for GDP, with an anticipated increase of $78.1 billion at current prices from 2023 to 2028, representing a 20.5% growth. This upward trend is expected to culminate in an all-time-high GDP of $459.02 billion by 2028, marking five consecutive years of economic expansion.

Internet & mobile phone trends

South Africa experienced a surge in internet and mobile phone usage in 2023. The country began the year with 43.48 million internet users, representing a 72.3% internet penetration rate. The government has set an ambitious goal of providing internet access to every South African household by 2024. On the mobile front, an estimated 22 million people use smartphones, accounting for roughly one-third of the country's population. However, the total number of mobile connections surpassed 90 million, demonstrating the widespread use of feature phones not only in South Africa but across the continent. Furthermore, projections show a steady increase in the proportion of the population accessing the internet on their mobile phones, with a 9.3 percentage point increase expected from 2024 to 2028. Following this upward trend, mobile internet penetration could reach a record 91.3% by 2028, capping a nine-year growth streak.

E-commerce statistics

South Africa's e-commerce sector is expected to grow dramatically in 2023, with market revenue reaching $6.36 billion by the end of the year. This upward trend, combined with a projected annual growth rate of 11.89% between 2023 and 2027, indicates a potential market volume of $9.97 billion by 2027. Similarly, the user base is expected to expand to 37.6 million by 2027. The e-commerce user penetration rate was 49.4% in 2023, with projections indicating a rise to 59.7% by 2027. Furthermore, average spending per user is forecast to reach approximately $213.

How people pay in South Africa

An overview of how people in South Africa choose to make payments.

Traditional payment methods

The primary traditional payment methods used in South Africa

Visa

A Visa credit/debit card is a financial payment card issued by banks or financial institutions. It allows users to make purchases, and withdraw cash and can be used online and in person. Visa's processing network can handle over 65,000 transaction messages per second.

Mastercard

Mastercard is a worldwide payment network that links financial institutions, merchants, and individuals, facilitating seamless transactions. This renowned company provides a range of credit and debit cards issued through partner banks. Customers may enjoy supplementary benefits such as rewards programs, cashback offers, and insurance coverage depending on the specific bank.

American Express

American Express cards encompass a range of payment cards provided by the multinational financial services corporation, American Express Company. The Amex card portfolio includes diverse options like credit cards, charge cards, and prepaid cards. Renowned for their broad acceptance among merchants, these cards grant cardholders access to various advantages, including perks, rewards programs, travel benefits, and dedicated customer service assistance.

Alternative payment methods (APMs)

Alternative payment methods

Apple Pay

Apple Pay, a mobile payment service from Apple Inc., allows users to make in-person, online, and in-app payments. It replaces chip and PIN transactions at contactless terminals.

PayPal

PayPal is a frequently used digital payment system that allows clients to use their PayPal accounts, debit/credit cards, or bank accounts. Customers use PayPal for secure online shopping and to send/receive money.

Google Pay

Google Pay is a digital wallet and payment service developed by Google. It allows users to make secure payments using their mobile devices or computers. It supports various payment methods, offers compatibility across different devices, and provides features like loyalty program integration and transit ticketing. Google Pay prioritises security and convenience with tokenisation and biometric authentication. It has expanded to include digital banking services and continues to evolve.

Amazon Pay

With Amazon Pay, consumers can easily pay for their purchases on the website using the information they have stored with Amazon. It eliminates the need for them to set up a new account with a different merchant. In addition, they can also make purchases at restaurants and stores using the app.

MobiCred

MobiCred is a simple and convenient online credit facility that empowers South African consumers to shop securely at participating online retailers. Users can seamlessly apply for an account and, upon approval, use it to make purchases across various online platforms, repaying the amount in manageable monthly instalments. Essentially, MobiCred serves as a digital credit system that streamlines online transactions for consumers, prioritising safety and convenience.

Accepting payments in South Africa

A guide to accepting payments in South Africa

How to accept online payments in South Africa

Before accepting online payments, you must determine which methods you prefer. Then you can choose a payment gateway provider, a service that authorises and processes online payments with their specific system. 

Although there are plenty of payment gateway options in South Africa, the general process for online payments typically involves an acquirer, issuer, retailer, and cardholder in the following steps:

1. The cardholder initiates a payment by presenting their payment card to the retailer to purchase goods or services.

2. The retailer sends the payment details to the acquirer, who processes the payment request and sends it to the payment scheme (such as Mastercard or Visa).

3. The payment scheme sends the payment request to the issuer (such as a bank or licensed issuer) who issued the card to the cardholder.

4. The issuer checks if the cardholder has enough funds to complete the transaction and approves or declines the payment request. If the payment is approved, the issuer sends an authorisation code to the payment scheme.

5. The payment scheme sends the authorisation code to the acquirer, which then sends it to the retailer, completing the transaction.

How long does an international payment from South Africa take?

The payment processing time may vary depending on the method and the recipient's bank. For instance, online money transfers through platforms like PayPal can quickly and conveniently send money to multiple destinations.  

  • Bank debit/credit cards: International payments with bank debit or credit cards may take a few minutes to a few hours, depending on bank processing times.

  • Online money transfers: Platforms like PayPal can process international payments within minutes to hours, depending on the service and destination country.

  • Wire transfers: Traditional bank-to-bank transfers or wire may take one to five business days or longer, depending on the destination country, intermediary banks, and transaction requirements.

Fees

Merchant fees

Merchant fees for online payments in South Africa can vary depending on the payment method and the merchant services provider used. Here are some examples of typical merchant fees for online payments in South Africa: 

  • Credit and debit cards: Merchant fees for accepting online credit and debit card payments can range according to the transaction amount. It also varies depending on the type of card used and the merchant services provider.

  • Bank transfers: Bank transfer fees can vary depending on the bank used, with some banks charging a flat fee per transaction and others charging a percentage of the transaction amount.

 Other fees

Other fees surrounding online payments in South Africa include charges incurred by merchants, payment processors, and financial institutions involved in the payment processing chain. Below are some common fees:

  • Interchange fees: Interchange fees are charges paid by merchants' banks to cardholders' banks to cover the costs of processing card transactions. These fees are usually based on a percentage of the transaction value and can vary depending on the type of card used and the merchant's industry.

  • Payment gateway fees: Payment gateway providers charge a fee for processing transactions on their platform, which may be a percentage of the transaction value or a flat fee per transaction.

  • Cross-border fees: If a merchant accepts payments from customers outside the country, they may be subject to additional fees for cross-border transactions, including currency conversion fees and international processing fees.

  • Merchant discount rate: A processing fee that merchants are charged for transactions made using credit or debit cards. This fee generally falls within 1% to 3% of the total transaction amount.

Security challenges of online payments in South Africa

South Africa's burgeoning online payment landscape is grappling with a multitude of security challenges. The rapid adoption of digital technologies, coupled with a growing internet and smartphone user base, has regrettably created new opportunities for cybercriminals. As more South Africans embrace the digital world, cybercriminals are finding new ways to launch their attacks. Moreover, online merchant payments often encounter authentication hurdles. Recognising these concerns, major payment card providers such as Visa and Mastercard are spearheading the development of innovative authentication solutions. Data security is also a major concern for South African businesses. To mitigate these risks, the implementation of robust cybersecurity measures is gaining traction across the country.

Key sectors & industries in South Africa

According to Statista and various other sources, the top 10 industries in South Africa are:

Finance and Banking

South Africa's banking sector reigns supreme in Africa, with Tier 1 capital exceeding $34.4 billion in 2021. The sector's assets account for a staggering 88% of the nation's GDP. Five of South Africa's leading banks rank among Africa's top 10 by asset value. The industry has benefited from revenue boosts driven by rising interest rates and increased transaction volumes spurred by enhanced digital customer interactions. Financial market fluctuations have also fuelled trading revenues, particularly in foreign exchange and commodities. However, economic challenges have led to an increase in credit impairment costs.

Mining

South Africa's mining sector holds substantial global prominence, driven by its production of crucial mineral commodities. In 2023, the industry's total assets reached an impressive R1.16 trillion, equivalent to approximately $61.4 billion. That year's revenue soared to R654 billion, or about $34.8 billion, representing a remarkable doubling over the preceding five years. However, to maintain this success, South African mining entities must now confront the challenge of adapting to the burgeoning era of critical minerals, marking one of the most transformative shifts in the industry in decades.

ICT

The country boasts one of Africa's most advanced ICT sectors, poised for a remarkable compound annual growth rate of 9.3%. This sector stands out as a pioneer in mobile software, security software, and online banking, attracting global tech giants like IBM, Microsoft, and Dell to establish subsidiaries in the country. South African ICT products and services are making significant headway into the broader African market, with cloud computing gaining substantial traction. Since 2016, approximately 60% of major businesses have adopted cloud computing, owing to advancements in bandwidth, security, and broadband affordability.

Agriculture and Agro-processing

South Africa's agriculture and agro-processing sector is a diverse and dynamic industry, encompassing a wide range of crops and horticultural products. The industry is driven by rising demand for nutritious food, fuelled by population growth and evolving dietary preferences. Despite facing challenges posed by climate change and cultivation constraints, the sector is poised for growth, supported by government initiatives and favourable policies. The market, valued at $14.98 billion in 2023, is projected to reach $21.60 billion by 2028, representing a CAGR of 7.60%. Key agricultural products include grains such as maize and wheat, along with a variety of fruits, including grapes, apples, pears, mangoes, avocados, and citrus.

Fashion and Beauty

The fashion and beauty industries are cornerstones of the nation's economy, contributing significantly to its growth and development. The fashion sector is poised to generate revenue of $887.60 million in 2023, with projections indicating an impressive rise to $1,502.00 million by 2027, representing a CAGR of 14.05%. By 2027, the fashion industry is expected to have 21.8 million users, leading to a user penetration increase from 24.5% in 2023 to 34.6%. The average revenue per user is projected to reach $60.03. Meanwhile, the beauty industry, encompassing skincare, fragrance, makeup, and haircare, reported revenues of approximately $430 billion in 2022. It is forecast to reach a staggering $580 billion by 2027, representing a robust 6% annual growth rate. Notably, the premium beauty segment is expected to grow at an even faster pace, with a projected annual growth rate of 8% until 2027. E-commerce has played an increasingly pivotal role in the beauty industry since 2015, capturing over 20% of the market share and revolutionising consumer purchasing habits.

Automobile

The South African automotive market is expected to grow from 1.33 million units in 2023 to 1.78 million units by 2028, demonstrating a CAGR of 6.04%. The broader African automotive sector is poised for substantial expansion, driven by factors such as urbanisation and government incentives. Notably, countries like Nigeria and Kenya are prioritising the development of domestic automotive production capabilities. Despite the positive growth outlook propelled by these factors, the industry does face challenges, particularly from the used vehicle market and a limited number of domestic production facilities. However, there is optimism regarding the potential impact of foreign investment initiatives in the automotive sector, which are anticipated to stimulate regional demand over the next five years.

Real Estate

The real estate industry, a pillar of the South African economy, has expanded dramatically in recent years. The residential real estate market, valued at $18.01 billion in 2023, is projected to reach $29.61 billion by 2028, exhibiting a CAGR of 10.46%. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, the residential sector has demonstrated remarkable resilience. This resilience is attributed to factors such as the entry of 15.6 million South Africans aged 20 to 34 into the market, favourable interest rates, the shift towards remote work arrangements, and the preference for spacious homes during lockdowns. Average residential property prices can reach up to R1.6 million, with variations depending on the location.

Renewable Energy

South Africa's renewable energy sector has experienced remarkable growth in recent years, emerging as a crucial pillar of the economy. By 2023, the renewable energy market reached a capacity of 14.93 gigawatts, with projections indicating a surge to 25.21 gigawatts by 2028, representing a CAGR of 11.05%. This expansion is fuelled by supportive government policies. Solar energy dominates the sector, capitalising on South Africa's abundant sunshine, averaging over 2,500 hours of sunlight annually and a 24-hour global solar radiation average of 220 watts per square metre. However, the country's reliance on coal could hinder the growth of residential batteries. South Africa possesses vast untapped offshore renewable potential, presenting promising opportunities for further growth. 

Healthcare Services

Poised for remarkable growth, the South African healthcare market is anticipated to reach a revenue of $198.60 million in 2023, with a projected CAGR of 14.42%, propelling its market value to an impressive $340.40 million by 2027. This growth is expected to drive an increase in user penetration from 10.8% in 2023 to 15.2% by 2027, reaching an estimated 9.6 million users. The average spending per user is projected to reach $30.49. Healthcare professionals, particularly the younger generation, are increasingly prioritising patient-centred care, driven by a desire to deliver exceptional outcomes. Advancements in technology, particularly in the field of artificial intelligence, are poised to bridge gaps and significantly enhance patient care within the next three years.

Tourism

South Africa's tourism industry, a cornerstone of its economy, is exhibiting a promising recovery path. From January to March 2023, an upward trend in tourism was evident, demonstrating the industry's resilience. In 2022, South Africa welcomed 5.8 million visitors, representing a significant 152.6% increase from 2021, with 4 million of those visitors hailing from Africa. While visitor numbers have yet to reach the 10-million mark set in 2019, strategic partnerships with the African continent and the private sector are propelling the country closer to this target. The initial three months of 2023 witnessed the arrival of 2.1 million visitors, accompanied by a notable foreign direct spend of R25.3 billion, a 143.9% increase from 2022. European tourists led in spending, followed by their African counterparts. Furthermore, the hospitality industry is projected to reach $1.30 billion in 2023, with an anticipated rise to $1.61 billion by 2028, reflecting a CAGR of 4.43%. This positive outlook underscores the industry's potential to contribute significantly to South Africa's economic recovery and growth.

Imports and Exports

South Africa's trade landscape in 2023 was defined by a diverse range of imports and exports. Machinery dominated imports, accounting for 23.5%, followed by mineral products (15.1%), chemicals (10.9%), vehicles and aircraft (10% each), equipment components (8.1%), and iron and steel products (5.3%). On the export front, platinum reigned supreme with a value of R13.4 billion, closely followed by delivery trucks (R13.1 billion). Gold accounted for R12.3 billion, while iron ore and automobiles contributed R9.27 billion and R8.76 billion, respectively.

Regulation in South Africa

The regulatory environment of South Africa

Summary of the regulatory environment in South Africa

To maintain fairness and operational smoothness in business ventures in South Africa, entrepreneurs are required to comply with a range of laws and regulations, which include:

  • Company law: This includes regulations governing companies' establishment, operations, and dissolution.

  • Employment law: This includes regulations governing employment contracts, working conditions, and employee rights.

  • Product liability law: This includes regulations governing the legal liabilities and responsibilities of manufacturers, sellers, distributors, and other parties involved in the production and sale of goods.

  • Intellectual property law: This includes regulations governing copyrights, patents, and trademarks.

  • Competition law: This includes regulations governing competition and antitrust matters to promote fair competition.

  • Consumer protection law: This includes regulations governing the rights of consumers, product safety, and advertising standards.

  • Data protection law: This includes regulations concerning the collection, use, and storage of personal data.

In South Africa, various governmental departments oversee specific legal sectors. The Department of Trade, Industry, and Competition is tasked with shaping and refining regulatory frameworks that address competition, consumer protection, intellectual property, company laws, and regulations serving the public interest. On the other hand, the Department of Employment and Labour manages areas related to employment such as industrial relations, efforts for job creation, unemployment insurance, and ensuring occupational health and safety.

How card payments are regulated in South Africa

The SARB governs card payments under the National Payment System (NPS) Act of 1998. Through Directive 1 of 2020, the SARB establishes rules for card issuers, acquirers, and domestic merchants regarding local card transactions. This directive aims to maintain the security of the NPS by mandating that local card issuers participate in the domestic clearing system and that merchants utilise local card acquirers. All related services must comply with South African laws and specific agreements. Only participants in the local clearing system are authorised to issue domestic cards for local transactions. The use of foreign acquirers for local transactions is prohibited. Violations of this Directive constitute offences under the NPS Act. This regulation ensures that domestic transactions, even those involving foreign issuers or acquirers, remain subject to South African oversight.

Do I need a licence?

Yes, you do need a licence to conduct business in South Africa. The specific licences hinge on the business type, offerings, and location. Governed by the Business Act of 1991, licences are necessary for businesses dealing with perishable foods, health services, entertainment, or selling alcohol, among others. Business owners must determine the necessary permits and consult the relevant authorities or legal experts to secure them.

Payment solutions in South Africa

An overview of how to accept payments from customers in South Africa

Payment gateways and providers in South Africa

In the rapidly changing landscape of payment methods, businesses must prioritise a smooth payment experience for their customers. APEXX, a forefront payment technology company, offers a solution that consolidates payments from a spectrum of providers.

Anticipating the varied payment preferences of modern consumers, APEXX's Payment Orchestration Layer (POL) platform serves as a central hub, bridging various payment methods and financial institutions. The primary benefit of the POL solution is its capacity to handle multiple payment streams within one cohesive platform, supplemented by tools that elevate business efficiency.

One notable feature is Intelligent Routing. This function evaluates aspects like cost, risk, and currency to select the best payment channel for each transaction. Such precision reduces transactional errors and can decrease associated fees.

Integration of the APEXX POL with existing payment infrastructure is straightforward. The platform provides user-friendly plugins and adaptable APIs, facilitating its blend with a range of payment platforms, from e-commerce portals to POS systems.

As a prominent payment solution provider, APEXX assists businesses in South Africa and beyond, refining their payment processes. Leveraging its versatile payment orchestration platform, businesses can adeptly manage diverse payment methods, enhancing overall customer satisfaction.

Cheapest payment solutions in South Africa

To reduce fees in their payment stacks, merchants in South Africa can implement the following strategies:

  • Negotiate fees: Merchants should negotiate with their payment providers for better rates, which can include transaction fees, interchange fees, and monthly fees.

  • Choose a suitable payment provider: Merchants should research and compare different payment providers to select the one that offers competitive rates and low fees.

  • Use alternative payment methods: Merchants can reduce fees by using alternative payment methods such as e-wallets or bank transfers instead of traditional card payments.

  • Prevent chargebacks: To avoid chargebacks and additional fees, merchants can offer clear product descriptions, prompt customer complaint resolution, and refunds when necessary.

  • Implement fraud prevention measures: Merchants should adopt fraud prevention measures to prevent fraudulent transactions, which can lead to chargebacks and additional fees.

  • Monitor payment processing fees: Merchants should keep a close eye on their payment processing fees and use payment analytics tools to track their expenses and identify areas where they can reduce costs.

Merchants can also consider using payment aggregators such as APEXX, which allow them to accept multiple payment methods through a single platform, reducing the need for multiple payment providers and lowering costs.

BNPL in South Africa

The buy now, pay later (BNPL) market in South Africa is experiencing explosive growth. BNPL transactions are expected to reach $0.9 billion by 2023, representing a 19.9% annual growth rate. The adoption rate is expected to rise at a CAGR of 35.5% between 2022 and 2028.

The gross merchandise value is also forecast to surge from $475.5 million in 2021 to a remarkable $5,013.8 million by 2028. This growth trajectory, which began during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, has witnessed a significant increase in South Africans embracing the additional credit line offered by BNPL during uncertain times. 

To navigate this promising landscape, South African merchants can leverage APEXX's capabilities. They can seamlessly integrate various payment systems, including popular BNPL options within the country, ensuring optimal payment management and customer satisfaction.




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