IM South Africa: Whatsapp approaching 10m, MXit must shift focus

Tech analysts at South Africa’s Strategy Worx have released a report looking at instant messaging in the country and what the meteoric rise of newcomers like Whatsapp and WeChat mean for homegrown chat client MXit. According to Strategy Worx CEO Steven Ambrose, Whatsapp is getting close to 10 million users here, while MXit is struggling to grow at all, holding steady at about 6.5 million regular monthly users.

Ambrose says that instant messaging in particular has plummeted on MXit as a result of the introduction of Whatsapp.

“MXit was never a true IM client,” Ambrose writes in the report, “Athough it facilitated direct messages between people. It was more akin to a mobile version of an internet chat room service like Internet Relay Chat (IRC). MXit later evolved into a platform with an app store and its own currency (Moola)… MXit’s strength is that it is not simply comparable to other platforms in the social arena and it understands and was designed for the emerging market in South Africa. This means it is far lighter on data and has a much greater penetration into feature phones.”

Ambrose singles out recent uses of MXit as an educational platform and a tool for co-ordinating ANC and Cosatu members as possible clues as to its future. By playing up its uniqueness and local relevance, it can remain a force to be reckoned with even as Facebook fever et al take hold.

Speaking as someone who’s struggled to get to grips with MXit, but simultaneously knows at least one person who makes a very comfortable living from developing MXit games, I can see where Ambrose is coming from. The problem I can see for the company is that while it does a great job at making social media simple on a featurephone – and there’s definitely a lot of feature phones around – people don’t seem to stick with it once they migrate upwards to a smartphone. And it definitely has an image problem among the middle class and anyone over the age of 18.

Is that really a problem though? If I was looking for a way to try and combat the increasing incidence of HIV among teenagers in the country, for example, MXit might be a first port of call.


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