Once upon a time, internet cafes were the real deal in Zimbabwe as many Zimbabweans would throng internet cafes browsing the internet for different reasons.
Prior dollarisation, internet cafes were a thriving business in the capital Harare and household names in the game which included Zimbabwe cafe, Movers Internet cafe among others occupied a lion’s share on the internet service market, raking hundreds and thousands of dollars in a month.
By Kudakwashe Pembere
Christmas for these players however did not last long following the introduction of multi-currencies as most people could access Internet easily on mobile phones and other portable gadgets. To stay afloat in this struggling economy, internet cafe owners charge $1 per hour with some charging the same amount for two hours.
Figures from the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) show that Zimbabwe’s mobile penetration increased in the last quarter of 2015 to 95.4% while active internet subscriptions increased to a total of 6,575,591. The national internet penetration rose to 48.1% in December 2015.
One might ask how feasible is the internet business in Zimbabwe and is it still a lucrative venture to pursue? It is evident that internet cafes were swept away by the tidal wave of rapidly evolving technology where one can easily purchase internet bundles on their phone to browse but some have survived this wave with others entering the comatose market of internet cafes.
How have these companies managed to stay afloat?
When someone is pushed to a tight corner, be sure that he or she will retaliate. Unlike others who threw in the towel, some players in the internet cafe business have remained in the game.
Contrary to popular belief that internet cafes are now white elephants with others deemed lifeless, you would be surprised that there are some internet cafes that are still thriving.
A-Z Internet cafe is one of those businesses that has survived in the industry. According the operations manager of the cafe , Widdlack Nyahwedegwe, there were times that he thought to follow the wind and close shop.
“You know there are times that I thought of quitting the business but in this world, its survival of the fittest,” he said. “But later on you discover that if you become a whiner, you wont get far.
Commenting on the current state of internet service provision he said “Having a view that internet cafes are no longer relevant is far fetched and misleading. In my view, we actually need more internet cafe outlets in town. Services offered in an internet cafe are now more than ever before. We have had clients do interviews online, academic applications, business meetings, buying and selling, social networking among other things.”
“When BE FORWARD came in, almost 85% of our clients were purchasing vehicles online. There are several advantages of a cafe…uncapped internet access, Anonymity, research, skyping, networking opportunities, real time support, online advice from cafe attendance, learning how to use net.”
He also said that they had to go with the flow in offering services such as WiFi Hotspots given by big corporates
“As an IT student, I found that setting up a WiFi Hotspot is easy. It is just a matter of securing the network for security purposes while paying up the internet service providers such as Zol, TelOne, you name them,” added the aspiring technopreneur.
Apart from offering WiFi services, the 24 year old lad does photocopying, scanning and printing
“In every business one can be, there are befitting challenges and also equivalent solutions or remedies to such. We have been coping with these along the way. Our struggle did not come with the economic liquidity crunch as such, the major blow came with the free internet provisions, the increase in number of internet cafes and in coming of major giants in the business jungle with more favourable approaches that cripple the SME.
“For example, of late there are so many Xerox agents or brand ambassadors that have been established, these offer printing facilities at very low costs compared to ours. This thus drives away the printing business from the internet cafe.
“We have however found a workaround to these challenges, instead of only focusing on internet provision, we now developed to doing graphic designing, printing, photo-coping, scanning, Faxing, laminations, computer repairs,mobile updates among others. In as much as the Xerox printer may be good, people prefer one-stop-shopping, so if we can have these under one roof, we keep our clients,” said Widdy.
Widdy also said they do webdesigning and graphic designing for customers.
“A lot of websites are not optimised for mobile viewing, some are optimised to limit features that are accessible on mobile, others are too heavy for mobiles, some are actually restricted from being accessed by mobiles. All these factors leave the internet cafe very relevant,” he added.
The Internet cafe owned by Vellagwara Enterprises has been in operation for the past 12 years at the same building although at some point they changed rooms.
So whoever thought the internet cafe business is drowning, think again. This business is still vibrant.