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50-Plus platforms share insights on South African 50-plussers and digital exclusion


The high cost of data, inadequate digital skills as well as several other key barriers and challenges prevent South African 50-plussers from keeping up to date with the world of technology. 

“There has been a massive rise in new technologies worldwide in recent years” said Lynda Smith, Managing Director at 50Plus-Skills.  “Technologies that benefit healthy ageing and longevity.  Technologies that enable people to live healthier and fulfilling lives.  Technologies that keep people physically active online, detect falls and diseases early on, manage disease conditions, reduce social isolation, and enable communication between families.  Technologies that facilitate online banking, shopping, travel, and telehealth”.

To fully participate in society, one must master these technologies.  These technologies should be inclusive and benefit all.    But, sadly, they don’t.  The majority of South African seniors are not enjoying the benefit of these new technologies.  They are not at ease with these new technologies, can’t afford to be online and are experiencing a plethora of challenges and barriers. 

If we don’t step in now and take South African senior citizens into consideration when it comes to the online space, we run the risk of shutting seniors out from society and worsening an already very worrying trend of isolation and loneliness amongst the elderly.

50Plus-Skills, You’ve Earned It and the Pensioner Forum recently collaborated and engaged with South African 50-plussers to get a sense of the need of this age group, when it comes to technology. 

“Technology is constantly changing the way we communicate and engage” said Marilyn Hallett, Director:  You’ve Earned It, the digital media platform for 60-plussers. “This last year alone, during a pandemic like no other, we have seen many 50-plussers being forced to adopt technology tools that has kept many of us engaged, connected, and informed.  Older adults who had Wi-Fi, were digitally literate prior to the pandemic and had the right devices were better positioned to deal with lockdown.  But what about those who are not digitally literate?  What about those who can’t afford Wi-Fi or who don’t have a computer?   Banks, retail outlets, the health sector – all have gone online and are waiting for no-one.  Despite being digitally literate (to a point), many 50-plussers feel as though they have been left behind and cite cost, fear, lack of self-confidence, knowledge gaps, privacy concerns and much more as the top reasons for their hesitancy to adopt technology”.

The research

Three 50-Plus platforms collaborated in a study, the purpose of which was to explore where this age group sit when it comes to digital literacy skills and the digital divide.  The “Digital Divide” referring to the gap between 50-plussers, their ability to access information and communication technologies and their use of the Internet for a wide variety of activities. 

The study included nearly 700 across the three platforms – 50Plus-Skills, You’ve Earned It and the Pensioner Forum.    It was conducted in April and May 2021. An online discussion (https://youtu.be/8vjKgl2tbhg), surveys, and polls were held.  All these respondents are digitally literate, to a point.

General insights gained from the survey include:

  • 6% of respondents communicate via their computer, 96.8% via their cell phone; 37.3% via their smart tablet and 5.1% used other communication tools.
  • 8% of respondents connect via a data package on their cell phone and 62.7% have fibre in the home. 28% use an external modem, 24.4% use free wi-fi hotspots and 14.1% still use ADSL.
  • The cost of data per month was interesting with 40.2% spending more than R500 pm, 50.5% spending between R100 and R500 pm, and 10% spending less than R100.
  • Almost all the respondents indicated that they were using Email, Google, and Facebook. Social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram are not as popular in this age category.  9% of respondents use LinkedIn.  This is not a surprising result given that these respondents are mostly comfortable with using online technology platforms and applications. 
  • The following question was asked of all respondents – “What skills would you like to learn?”. Half of the respondents indicated that they would like to learn how to use software tools to manage their lives, broaden their interests through the internet and to gain a better understanding of social media platforms.
  • A surprisingly high percentage of respondents use online banking, online shopping and can communicate online with family and friends.
  • Despite being digitally literate, a resounding 81.7% of respondents indicated that they would like to broaden their digital literacy skills.

The key barriers and challenges across all platforms


Lack of self-confidence and fear

Participants in all groups, despite being digitally literate, cannot keep up to date with the speed and pace of updates in technology.  Constant change brings about a feeling of being somewhat redundant in a technological world. Technology is not being designed with the older person in mind.

A lack of self-confidence and the fear of doing “something wrong is a primary barrier and challenge.  Fear of:

  • Navigating one’s way around apps and privacy issues.
  • Being vulnerable to misinformation.
  • The unknown – how to use your device to do online banking; how to navigate around a banking app; how to update software; how to overcome physical barriers when phone buttons and text are too small; how to make a health telecall; how to online shop.

Data is prohibitively expensive.

Across the board, but more pronounced in the lower LSM groups, is the need for cheaper data rates.  Pensioners simply do not have the budget to spend on data.  Most respondents are calling for more cost-effective data.  In addition, pensioners cannot understand why data must expire, and many would like to receive a free lifeline data package monthly.

Learning – devices, courses

There is a general and genuine interest in needing and wanting to learn more and integrating technology into one’s life.  50-plussers wish:

  • To learn how to use technology to its fullest potential.
  • To learn how to use the various devices such as smart phones, Tablets, laptops etc.
  • To develop critical skills
  • To be given hints, tips, and training on all aspects of technology
  • To learn in group sessions, individual/personal teaching or follow step-by-step courses.
  • That courses were not so prohibitively expensive. Pensioners cannot afford to pay for expensive tech courses.

Specific mention was made of learning:

  • How to navigate the internet
  • Online safety and how to identify scams.
  • Social Media in general
  • Windows 10
  • Downloading of material – photos/documents/apps
  • How to file documents
  • How to use Zoom and Dropbox
  • How to understand and use different apps
  • How to understand data and to maximise it
  • Generally, working more smartly with technology.

Tech support assistance from corporates and businesses

It was felt that corporates and businesses do not support older adults.  There was a cry for tech support call lines tailored to older adults less familiar with the internet.  50-plussers would like to have access to a person who can assist them and point them in the right direction.  Some banks and medical aid schemes have implemented such services, but there was a consensus that this kind of assistance should be offered across the board. 

Worldwide Solutions

Worldwide, governments are recognizing the need to provide seniors with tech assistance. 

  • Telecom operators and internet companies in China have been urged by the Chinese Government to optimize their services for the elderly. Specified services such as aiding seniors in their use of smart tech.
  • In May 2021, in the United States, the Federal Communications Commission will launch the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, which will have internet service providers give low-income Americans who qualify up to $50 off per month for broadband service, plus a one-time $100 discount for a new computer or tablet.



Disconnected 50-plussers in South Africa need an enabling environment to develop their digital literacy skills through formal and informal programmes.  They need the opportunity to access the internet and learn new skills to carry out their day-to-day life.  This would be life-changing for them. Government and the industry leaders should help 50-plussers join the world of technology.

  • Digital giants and tech companies need to cater to this 50-plus market, which has massive potential. This can be done in partnership with organisations connected to this generation.
  • In the next 25 years, the older population is expected to continue to grow more rapidly than any other age group.  Currently, the 60-plussers make up 9% of South Africa’s population, forecast to increase to 16% by 2050.
  • 50-Plus Skills provides a community for this generation to learn, earn and serve and will offer courses to cover this learning.
  • You’ve Earned It will provide its 50-plus readers with a Directory which will include a variety of courses, IT Assistance and Tutorials.


Issued on behalf of:   You’ve Earned It, 50Plus-Skills and Pensioner Forum

Enquiries: Marilyn Hallett

Director:  You’ve Earned It, the digital media platform for SA 60-plussers

Tel:  021 715 7805 / Cell:  076 1946 033

Email:  marilyn.hallett@youve-earned-it.co.za

Website:  https://youve-earned-it.co.za/

Enquiries:  Lynda Smith

Managing Director:  50Plus-Skills, an online skills community that provides a platform for individuals, aged 50-plus

Cell:    082 490 2822

Email:  Lynda@50plus-skills.co.za

Website:  https://www.50plus-skills.co.za/