I just came back from spending the past 2 weeks in South Africa as my father has not been back in roughly 35 years. For those unfamiliar, my father and his entire family are from Johannesburg (or Jo-Burg as they call it). He is the youngest of his family and has a twin brother, an older brother, and two twin sisters; it’s a large family to say the least. I’ve got 20 first cousins and out of all of them, I am the first American born and Kenny, my brother, is the second. As my dad likes to say, I’m the first Yankee in the family.
After 35 years of not being back, things changed. We noticed this first when showing my children the street my father grew up on a few years back using Google Earth. His once childhood home is now an entire apartment complex. The down-the-street gas station is now a sprawling strip mall. All of this is expected as the country has grown tremendously and only recently (within 20 years) freed itself of Apartheid.
We traveled thru Johannesburg, a safari in Manyeleti (southeast corner of Kruger National Park), Cape Town and Stellenbosch. My folks stayed a few extra days and did the Garden Route drive. I noticed a few things re: technology + marketing and thought I’d share.
1. Ubiquitous Connectivity: No matter where we were traveling, we pretty much had Vodacom or similar service to our mobile devices. While I did not use the service (my iPhone is not unlocked), I theoretically had access. The infrastructure in South Africa for mobile service is pretty solid and even in the safari, I had access. I remember my phone ringing while being on a game drive in the middle of the Manyeleti. I barely get cell signal in the basement of our home in Westchester County! Go figure.
2. Where Were All the Phones?? We walked around a few shopping malls and saw no less than 3-4 cellphone stores per mall. That’s a lot. But, unlike NYC, most cellphones were in people’s pockets while they were walking rather than in their fingers and in front of their noses. The culture wasn’t about being on the cellphone at all times, but rather having the phone purely as a utility to compliment whatever someone was doing. Maybe this is because of the rate plan structures but it was certainly noticeable. The Samsung phones seemed to have large share of market (when we got to see people holding their phones).
3. Safety with Credit Cards I actually felt safer using my credit card in SA than I do in NYC. When you want to pay with your credit card, the waiter brings over a small device that scans your card at the table in front of you and your card never, ever, ever leaves your sight. Contrast this to the USA where your credit card might be out of your sight for 3-5 minutes while the waiter charges your card and does whatever else with it (scans it, copies it, etc). I know there are some edge technologies that are being tested where you don’t need to even take out your credit card but this has not hit South Africa yet, at least based on what I saw there.
4. Coca Cola signs Seemed like Coca-Cola was the universal sign for business/commerce. While walking thru District 6 in the townships, if a shanty had a Coca Cola sign, it didn’t necessarily sell coke but rather sold *something.* You knew walking by that the shanty was selling some good/service/product, not necessarily coke. Some interesting branding for Coke!
Over the next week or so, I’ll be posting our official pictures but they are still sitting on our SD Card. A few simple pics can be found on my Instagram feed.
It’s good to be back! Oh, and I didn’t tweet once the entire time and strangely didn’t miss it. Though I did scan the twitter headlines whenever I had access to wifi.
Random tidbit from trip: 50 Cent (and his entourage) was on our flight down to Johannesburg and Busta Rhymes (entourage as well) was on our flight back. I didn’t feel it was appropriate to bring up my Dave Matthews Band music with them.