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South Africans refuse to innovate, and love to imitate

Published by on Aug 18th, 2011, 20 Comments


Billions of people are now for the first time being touched by technology; untapped markets like gold mines stretch as far as your eyes can see, from Cape to Cairo and beyond. They sit there waiting, and we read about them everyday, yet young technology entrepreneurs are fantasizing about building the next big thing to hit the US Apple app store.

I sometimes find myself completely numb when young South African developers and entrepreneurs talk about how their next project will be a web app or  iPad app thing. Have we all completely lost the plot?

It seems that perhaps our Silicon Valley envy has impeded our thinking in South Africa. We are completely obsessed with the American market and what American developers are doing, to the point where we have been blinded to reality.

It’s not just developers either, the problem stretches all the way to CEOs of our local corporates aswell. I always find it amusing when I see South African companies investing their marketing budget into iPhone apps when the vast majority of their customers have never seen a computer.

We are all unwittingly complicit in a conspiracy against our own well-being. Millions of South Africans are walking around with problems that are not being addressed by South African developers and entrepreneurs. Hundreds of millions of Africans are walking around with cellular phones but have never heard of Pepsi or Lay’s chips because marketers don’t give a damn about them and are too busy building iPad apps.

We should start innovating in South Africa, because we are lagging behind in a huge way. The proliferation of cheap smartphones and the insane addiction to telecommunication that our people have, leaves us with no excuse. The people want it, we need to start giving it to them.

For a long time mobile was mostly text based then later on as browsers came to phones nothing more than a stripped-down ugly html pages. With the dramatic surge in Android devices in emerging markets this is no longer the face of mobile, mobile in Africa is completely changing and in the next year will be unrecognisable to those looking on apathetically from the side-lines.

It’s time we stop imitating what companies and developers are doing in saturated developed markets, we need to go back to our pioneering roots and take the lead in these new untapped markets around the world though innovation and entrepreneurship.

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