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Country Snapshot: South Africa

Marc Jarrett
Hosts to the eagerly anticipated football World Cup, South Africa is ranked the 25th wealthiest county in the world in terms of GDP. However, there still remains an enormous disparity between the rich and the poor, since about a quarter of the 49m strong population is unemployed and lives on less than the equivalent of $1.25 U.S. a day.

Of the remaining three-quarters, about four and a half million people, or 9.4 percent of the overall population, have access to the fixed-line Internet at this time. Perhaps surprisingly, this is not the highest Internet penetration rate in the region — that particular honour is bestowed upon the island nation of Mauritius.

According to Euromonitor, debit cards dominate South Africa's payment card market with 28 million of them in circulation as of 2008, versus about 8 million credit cards which, interestingly, by law cannot be used to purchase gasoline. In light of the forthcoming influx of tourists, politicians are working to revise those regulations, so that people can pay for gas using their flexible friends.

As for premium-rate pay-per-call numbers, South Africa is the only country on the African continent that support these, and Premium SMS (PSMS) is also a viable billing mechanism in this market.

Accepting cash from this largely unbanked nation is also possible, thanks to ecommerce payment provider Smart Voucher Ltd, trading as Ukash, who became the first to offer online cash payment solutions in South Africa; allowing e-retailers to market to the country's large cash consumer base for the first time.

U.K.-based Ukash, in partnership with strategic South African-based partner Blue Label Telecoms, enables consumers who do not own a card or are unwilling to use it on the Internet, to purchase from online merchants without revealing sensitive bank details using prepaid vouchers.

By steadfastly sticking to a "credit card only" payment policy, you are therefore depriving yourself of additional revenue if you are currently receiving traffic from this, the largest economy in the African Union.

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