🪐 SA's R1.7 Trillion Space Race…

Plus: Banning TikTok, leaked election lists & how to build great products in Africa.
March 15, 2024

Hungry? Whatever you do, don’t nibble on marine reptiles. This week, 9 people died from eating sea turtle meat in Zanzibar — and 78 are still in hospital with one of the worst cases of food poisoning ever.

In this Open Letter:

  • Space race: Unlocking SA’s share of a trillion-dollar industry.
  • Banning TikTok, leaked election lists & PayShap’s first birthday.
  • Think local: How to spot opportunities & build big in Africa.
  • The Results: What you’re doing to be more sustainable.
  • Share this: And get free business tools.

Unlocking SA’s Share of the R1.7 Trillion Space Economy

In February 1999 a bunch of Stellenbosch-based engineers made history when they launched what was at the time, South Africa’s first satellite – SUNSAT

Google Maps and Google Earth were still in their infancy back then, so visitors to their facility at Stellenbosch University’s engineering faculty were amazed by the feeds of satellite images of South Africa from space. 

There’s no doubt they inspired a whole generation of SA engineers to dream of one day playing a big role in space technology.

And now, 25 years later, it's happening!

Space is becoming a big deal, fast

Ten years ago, there were 92 orbital launches globally. 

Fast forward to 2023 and SpaceX alone did more: 96 launches – the total number of launches per year has doubled to 180. 

Do you hear that, Elon?

And it’s all thanks to lowering launch costs.

Estimates are a SpaceX launch costs around $28 million (with the first-stage booster being the most expensive component). Reusing the booster can reduce additional launch costs by over 46% to just $15 million. 

Valuable payloads

Now, rockets are launched for all kinds of reasons including tests for human space travel (check SpaceX’s test flight yesterday), research and, on the commercial side, to drop off satellites in orbit. 

Satellites have a number of uses:

  • Weather – Monitoring weather patterns from space is very useful. 
  • Security – Monitoring borders and oceans for suspicious activities.
  • Internet – Starlink-like services that provide internet to remote locations on Earth.
  • Agriculture – Monitoring the growth of crops through colour and shape analysis.
  • And much more. 

And, of the R767bn–R1.7 trillion per year global investments in space over the last few years, some 40% have gone to satellite projects.

So, yes, there’s an enormous market – Morgan Stanley predicts space investment could top $1 trillion by 2040 – and, right now, it favours satellites; something South Africa is fairly well known for.

SA’s glorious space-age future, according to AI.

World-leading satellite engineering right here in SA

CubeSpace is a Stellenbosch-based company that develops parts for satellites. Particularly ADCS, sensors and actuators. 

They develop the parts that ensure the precise orientation and stability of payloads and antennas, which are vital for the successful functioning and achievement of the spacecraft's mission objectives. 

At very low gravity, it’s tricky to steer satellites (to avoid collisions with space junk and other satellites flying at 28 000 km/hour), turn their solar panels toward the sun or aim their cameras or antennas in the right direction. CubeSpace has already designed and manufactured the parts for over 300 satellites.

And with a sweet recent funding round of R47 million, they are nicely positioned for growth.

But cameras are also key for many satellite operations. This is why Simera Sense supplies solutions to global customers in the Earth observation data and service market, which is estimated to be worth USD 12.55 billion in 2024, and is expected to reach USD 20.73 billion by 2029

They were also in the news recently for raising $15m from among others, local VC firm Knife. 

Not to mention SA’s very own space agency SANSA, contributing to space in the areas of Earth Observation, Space Science, Space Ops and Space Engineering including projects with NASA’s Lunar Exploration, supporting the UAE’s first lunar mission, as well as China’s International Lunar Research Station.

If you are into space, get ready. Some nice funding and good momentum – the SA space industry is taking off, and we’re watching it…


🥳 Happy Birthday. Local interbank, real-time payments service, PayShap is celebrating its first birthday with 2.5 million users. Having started out with the “Big 4” SA banks, it’s extended its services to more banks in the last year, with its 10th one on the horizon.

🙅‍♂️ Banned Dance. The US House of Representatives has voted in favour of passing a bill giving TikTok’s Chinese owner ByteDance six months to divest the US assets it holds, or it may face a ban. Where on earth will we get our viral dances from now?

🤑 Doubled Stake. In a deal worth R535 million, Capitec has more than doubled its stake in Avafin from 40.66% to 97.69%. Avafin is an international online consumer lending group operating in Poland, Czechia, Latvia, Spain and Mexico.

🛬 Bailouts Cancelled. Outgoing Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan has promised there’d be no more government bailouts for SAA as the airline can sustain itself for the next 18 months. This comes after the deal to sell 51% of SAA to Takatso Consortium fell through.

🥷 Leaked Lists. SA’s election commission the IEC has confirmed that the employee responsible for leaking the ANC & new MK Party’s national and provincial election candidate lists has been fired. The IEC’s investigation also reveals the employee had also downloaded the candidate lists of a bunch of other political parties.


How to Spot Opportunities & Build Great Products in Africa

If you’re a builder, you’ll love our latest How Would You Build It podcast. We sat down with SA product legend Roger Norton, chief product officer at OkHi to chat about building successful products in Africa. And Roger has seriously great insights…

Some highlights

1. Building credibility & landing big clients

As Roger says here, corporations usually build success on one or two revenue streams, and they develop a severe aversion to anything disrupting or threatening those. Which translates into extreme risk aversion.

What Roger found works is either 1) implement your product/service with a couple of their smaller peers first – try TymeBank before you approach Standard Bank, for example. Or 2) find a way to prove to them that your solution is worth their time – which can take a long time investment of research, building relationships, pitching and deploying pilots.

2. Finding product market fit in Africa

As Roger explains, the core of building products at scale is to 1) build things people want and need to engage with regularly, 2) in a space that’s growing really fast and 3) that people stick around with. This gives you the best chance at a high engagement rate, acquisition and retention rate.

3. Growing strategically

When it comes to developing your product and scaling, Roger says what they do is to 1) focus on building network effect within a single market first, then you can start looking at 2) expanding through your existing customers and referrals to other regions. 

Lastly, 3) is to look at those referrals and identify the regions that seem to be adopting and converting well, and then double down on those as your expansion plan.

And there are loads more awesome nuggets of info in the podcast — it’s 30 minutes well spent for anyone looking to build a great product in Africa.

You can also grab the Spotify and Apple Podcast links on our website here.


We asked what your contribution to sustainability is, and it’s a pretty clear winner…

🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 ♻️ I recycle (65%)

🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 💪 Offset my carbon (6%)

🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ ✅ Building my environmental startup (6%)

🟨🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🤷‍♂️ Does not weeing in the pool count? (9%)

🟨🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 💭 Climate change is a lie (12%)

Your 2 cents…

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