The Importance of Localisation for South African Businesses

A recent study revealed that approximately six million South Africans access the internet using computers, laptops, and tablet devices. Seven million more access the internet using their mobile phones. However, while many may think of the internet as the de facto medium to reach out to new audiences, the reality is that anyone with a mobile phone is actually a potential customer.

 Actual local mobile penetration is close to 70%, ignoring inactive and multiple SIMs. With those taken into account, penetration is well over 100%.  In contrast, a March 2012 study by World Wide Worx revealed that computer penetration in South Africa is at a mere 9.5 million, with most used in businesses.

Every mobile device in use today has a number of default capabilities that make transactions possible by means of virtual currency. These include SMS (Short Message Service) and USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data).

Kenyan Safaricom’s M-PESA, one of a number of existing mobile transaction services, allows users to send and receive money deposited to a virtual account via SMS. The service, which currently has just over 1.2 million South African subscribers, also allows for the payment of bills, and deposits into bank accounts without the user requiring a bank account of his or her own.


More is needed

Yet despite mobile penetration and the readiness of technology to support transactions, businesses remain unable to reach much of the South African population, with language being one of the biggest barriers. While many South Africans are capable of some level of English, only 9.6% of the entire population use it as a first language. isiZulu and isiXhosa, in contrast, are used as mother tongue by 22.7% and 16% of the population respectively.

Ignorance about translation costs is perhaps one of the main contributing factors to explain why South African business in general have as yet been reluctant to approach new audiences. According to Bangula Language Centre Founder Hannietjie Sapire, forfeiting translation costs in the short term will cost businesses clients in the long term, especially as start-ups pop up to address existing gaps in growing markets. Since 2005 South Africa’s black middle class has grown from 1.6 to 4.2 million adults.

Professional Translation

Professional translation takes cultural and language nuances into account, providing a much broader scope of formal and informal communication than is broadly perceived. Inexpensive translation costs combined with technology which increasingly makes it easier to reach different-language audiences, such as the WordPress WPML plugin which enables multilingual website capabilities without a complete website redesign,  make it possible for businesses to offer their products and services to more diverse audience segments.

In today’s South Africa the infrastructure is there for businesses to increase the scope of their activity, and therefore also profit potential. But, as with anything else, the real question remains: aside from banks and mobile operators, who’s going to go first?

Bangula Language Centre has been translating educational, business, and government material since 1994. Today, under the guidance of Wits University translator trainer, Hannetjie Sapire, Bangula offers an increasingly diversified list of translation services to businesses both big and small at affordable rates. Read more about our professional translation services here.