State of the drone report: South Africa


In a way, the opening statement below from Drone Industry Insights is just a fact: there are very little headlines about the commercial African drone space, if at all.

There are a lot of reasons why this situation subsists; and one of them has been the fact that as a continent, we have not handled the things we can control in the right way.

But that is a story for another day; today we have to congratulate the researchers at DII for giving Africa the due attention it deserves in as far as commercial drone value chain is concerned.

The focus might only be on one country; but that is a step in the right direction; and we hope their analysis below lifts the lid on the potential for drone technology on the continent, that a few drone makers and service providers have taken advantage of so far.

The below article focus on the drone industry in South Africa, is part of DII’s ongoing series of regional and national coverage of drone technology in specific parts of the world.

We hope you learn from it.

Make no mistake: despite a lack of international headlines, the African continent is a hotspot for drone technology.

In this fifth instalment of our drone country market series, we begin to shed light on the continent’s drone innovation by highlighting the South African drone market.

Drones are being used in several parts of Africa such as outsmarting desert locusts in Kenya, managing quelea bird infestations in Zimbabwe, or maritime monitoring in Nigeria and Seychelles.

In South Africa itself, there was a recent headline about drone use taking off in the country, which mentions fire-fighting, mining, and crime management among others. Rather than explaining particular use cases and companies, the text below provides a glimpse into the South African Drone Market as a whole.

Opportunity for Drones in South Africa

With a population of around 58.048 million residents, South Africa is in fact among the most populated countries in the continent (though official census numbers put the population closer to 62 million).

But it nevertheless pales in comparison to Nigeria (over 200 million), Ethiopia (over 116 million), and Egypt or the Democratic Republic of the Congo (both roughly over 100 million).

Yet its area of 1,219,090 square km, with plenty of mountains, rivers, and access to the sea provides ample opportunities for drone technology to shine. With a real GDP of US$790.625 billion (similar to Colombia and higher than Switzerland or the United Arab Emirates), it is wealthier than other countries in the region, which should allow it to become a leader in drone technology.

In addition to drone use in top industries such as agriculture or construction, another great opportunity for drones in South Africa could stem from its 20,986 km of railways (thirteenth in global rank). This provides an opportunity for drone inspections, which several drone companies in various other parts of the world have also taken on.

So, all things considered, the population, relative wealth, and overall economy and geography provide plenty of room for the South African drone market to flourish.

South African Drone Market Composition

When it comes to the drone companies in South Africa that are already active, what do they do?

Roughly 60 percent of South African drone companies are small operations of ten employees or less, and almost 80 percent have a workforce of 50 or fewer employees.

In other words, this is a very startup-and-SME-driven ecosystem, and perhaps even more so than the already startup-driven global drone industry.

Naturally, 41 percent of the South African drone market consists of drone service providers.

However, an interesting 23 percent are hardware manufacturers, and there is a growing share of Drone Training & Education companies (currently around nine percent).

With these components alone, there is a solid base for the country to develop a good drone ecosystem thanks to having hardware, services, and training. Other types of drone companies in South Africa include BIS (Business Internal Services, five percent) which use drones in-house, Software Manufacturers (five percent) and various others.

Priorities and Challenges for Drone Companies in South Africa

Regarding the top market-driving factor for the South African drone market, there is a consensus that it is drone regulation.

(Of course, it is regulations. Just like everywhere else).

Despite any activity and participants’ reported slight improvement in regulation over the past year, the country does not rank high in the Drone Readiness Index, meaning that there is still necessary regulatory work that needs to be done for safe and scalable advanced drone operations.

There have also been recent debates about whether the regulation is too restrictive and if it should be improved.

The second-ranked market-driving factor is understandably Drone Service Providers/Operators themselves. Their performance and reputation will help make or break the perception and success of drones in South Africa, at least according to the participants of this year’s survey.

Lastly, Software Manufacturers were seen as the third leading factor, which potentially suggests there is a need for more software development in the country. This could entail more specific/sophisticated software, better software in general or perhaps simply even cheaper solutions.

What do drone companies in South Africa prioritize for the coming year?

As in many countries throughout the world, the top priority is Marketing & Sales. This once again gives credence to the idea that product development has reached a point where it is reliable enough that companies can focus more on selling their products than on developing them.

Considering that Software Development was ranked as the second-highest priority, it seems that indeed there is a need for improved software solutions within the South African drone market. The third priority for the future of South African drones is Finances & Funding.

South African Drones: Connecting the Industry

In comparison with the global average, the South African drone market is significantly more optimistic about the next twelve months (7.2 vs. 6.6).

Moreover, this optimism also marks a substantial improvement from how drone companies in South Africa perceived the last year (6.5). So, all things considered, the market has a shiny perspective about its future.

This, however, does not mean that there are no concerns.

The main concerns reported by survey respondents were: 1. Regulation, 2. Funding, and 3. Domestic politics.

Specifically, some respondents stated that “regulatory clarity” or the “slow pace of change and lack of enforcement of the regulations” were significant challenges on this front.

So, the issue of regulation being a top factor in driving or stalling the market comes once again to the forefront.

The second concern, Funding, also aligns with the third market priority. This reflects the continuing need for many parts of Africa to receive initial funding to get their products/operations going in various industries.

The drone industry is no different in this regard, especially given the high costs often involved with robotics and investors’ hesitation to invest in SMEs in general.

Finally, the third concern reported was domestic politics. This has also appeared as a top three concern in places like the UKSpain, and the DACH region, so it is certainly no outlier.

Although there may be several reasons for this to appear as a top concern depending on the country (such as corruption, ineffective governance/legislation, etc.), the root cause can often be boiled down to competition.

When companies or individuals focus on competing rather than collaborating, it can very often lead to “politicizing”, collusion, and unfair/preferential treatment that pushes members of a community into a tribe mentality that is detrimental to the community as a whole.

But regardless of what the cause for this may be in South Africa, there are some encouraging signs ahead.

In 2024 and 2025, the African Drone Forum is planning to make a return, to bring together all members of the African community. Although it will not be limited to South Africa alone, there are also organizations like the African Institute of Entrepreneurship (AIFE, based in Johannesburg) that are helping push drone companies in South Africa into the spotlight.

Therefore, the South African drone market and drone companies in Africa should be looking forward to stronger recognition of their activities and achievements within the global landscape


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