It is estimated that South Africa has a population of 49.004.031. The rural population was reported at 19.114.516,20 in 2008 (38%). With a Human Development Index of 0,597, the country lies at the 113rd place out of 172 countries. It is a middle-income country with an emerging market with an abundant supply of natural resources, well-developed financial, legal, communications and energy sectors. However, daunting economic problems remain from the apartheid era – especially poverty, lack of economic empowerment among the disadvantaged groups and a shortage of public transportation. More than a quarter of South Africa's population currently receives social grants.
ICTs in the country
In spite of overall growth of the ICT sector, performance has been suboptimal, with a series of unintended policy outcomes including high prices, lagging Internet and broadband penetration rates as a result of entrenched market dominance in the fixed and mobile voice markets. Growth in South Africa’s ICT sector has not been accompanied by a realisation of the primary policy objectives of affordable access. South Africa has lost its status as continental leader in Internet and voice connectivity. While ICT is driven primarily by private investment and private operators, it is guided by national regulatory frameworks which have not proven to be particularly effective, having limited innovation and constrained affordability of services. South Africa has made massive investments in ICT infrastructure in preparation for the World Cup in 2010. But foreign investments in the telecommunications sector have been blocked because of a government policy on foreign ownership restrictions in the telecommunications sector.
In terms of access, mobile services continue to grow, with the operators reporting more than 100% SIM penetration. However, the 2007-2008 IRIA household survey suggests a penetration rate close to 65%. In terms of broadband access, South Africa continues to compare poorly against other lower middle income countries. While mobile broadband has bolstered broadband access, growth remains relatively poor. Pricing remains a major barrier to the access and usage of both fixed-line and mobile phone services. In addition, the cost of equipment such as Internet-enabled mobile phones and personal computers is prohibitively high as is the cost of accessing services. These factors are significant hurdles to any technological innovation and productivity gains associated with an information economy. Large portions of the South African population do not have the most basic access to data services.
Local radios in the country
South Africa now has over 100 on-air local radio stations with coverage to rural areas, apart from two on-air community television stations, and numerous print and online community and alternative media initiatives. A challenge the sector is facing relates to how to ensure editorial and programming independence in relation to powerful institutions, including the state and the private sector. The use of local networks of correspondents to feed in news to the local radios’ news desks is not a common practice.
There are worrying factors that local media have to face in South Africa, namely the strong streak of authoritarian populism that is prevalent, the very limited resources local media has to undertake research in order to construct an in-depth story, lack of means to support dissent which generates ideas that can change society. Quality content is a challenge, in order to meet the information which communities need.