JOHANNESBURG: More than half of all adults in South Africa will be internet users by 2014, compared with just over a third at present, according to a forecast.

The New Wave report, written by Indra de Lanerolle, Visiting Research Associate at the University of Witwatersrand, looked at internet use in South Africa based on a representative survey of 1,589 adults.

It found that that internet use had risen sharply over the past four years, from 15% in 2008 to 34% in 2012, and, at this rate, would exceed 50% by 2014 and 66% by 2016.

"Our results show there is a new wave of users who have come online in the last few years," said de Lanerolle. "Their presence is something that business, government, political parties and civil society should be responding to."

Mobile phones are the primary means of getting online at present, cited by 71% of respondents. But a third of those who own an internet-capable phone do not use it for this purpose, the research added.

The top five reasons given for first going online are: to get information, to socialise, for study, for work and to look for a job.

More specifically, social media is highly important, with more people having created social network accounts than have email addresses – 75% against 66%.

And those people using Mxit, Africa's largest social network, are more likely to connect just by mobile phone than users of Facebook or Twitter.

The majority of internet users are urban (76%), speak an African language at home (66%) and are educated to high school level (65%).

Younger users dominate, with 40% being aged 15-24 and a further 33% in the 25-34 age group.

A significant proportion of users, some 42%, live on less than R1,500 a month, while 19% are classified as being below the poverty line.

Of those 66% of people who are not online, half say they don't know what the internet is, and de Lanerolle called for more opportunities to go online via internet cafés, libraries, schools and colleges.

Another significant barrier to increased uptake is language: the report found that around 20% of adults do not read and write English easily and just 3% of this group use the internet. The report suggests more voice and video content for these potential users.

Data sourced from The South African Network Society Survey; additional content by Warc staff