Where are South Africa's unicorns?

Inside The Torrid Quest For That Elusive First South African Tech Unicorn

By  |  May 24, 2021

“South Africa has all the charm but still no unicorn” is a bit of a cheesy expression that is hardly about magical beasts. But like the imaginary, mythical creature itself, tech unicorns remain non-existent in South Africa many years after the country seemed like clear favourites to hit that landmark repeatedly.

By now, it must have registered that that made-up statement in quotes (which seems like a desperate attempt at a double-entendre), is actually a reference to the fact that that home-grown startup worth the magical USD 1 Bn or more continues to elude South African tech. And it does seem a little odd.

“South Africa has the best infrastructure and resources at our disposal but we just can’t seem to crack it,” says Lwazi Mbeko, CEO of South African web hosting company, KhulaHosting.

South Africa is home to exciting startups some of which have yielded successful exit events, and the country’s startup scene is arguably up there when it comes to capital and human capacity. In addition, South Africa is often considered No.1 in terms of startup infrastructure and tech resource in Africa, and its tech ecosystem almost always tops African rankings. 

Plus South African tech ostensibly had a headstart: Go back ten years and it was something of an unspoken consensus that African tech unicorns - if they were to be any - were most likely to come from South Africa before anywhere else. But obviously, that hasn’t been the case. So, why no unicorns in South Africa, yet? There’s more to it than meets the eye.

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