Is data really that much more expensive in Zimbabwe?

Leonard Sengere Avatar

We all know as fact that data prices are unjustifiably high in this country. We know this but do we have the numbers to prove it? I had a conversation recently with a friend in South Africa and we started comparing data prices. Turns out that universal truth we all hold on to might not be as accurate as we think.

Before we get to the comparison let us get a few things out of the way. South Africa and Zimbabwe are different countries. South Africa is currently in a better position economically, by GDP they are the third largest economy in Africa and no, we are not first or second. The nominal GDP per capita is higher there as is the minimum wage. We will not go into these stats deeper but you get the gist of it – they are ahead.

South Africa has a much larger population and so the mobile network operators there have a larger pie to share. Vodacom has over 37m subscribers while the third largest operator, Cell C, has around 15.3m subscribers. That is comparable to Zimbabwe’s population, babies and all. Having this many subscribers introduces economies of scale into the picture. The tax climates are also different, there is no health levy on MNOs in South Africa. The gist – mobile network operators have it better down south.

After considering all this, our neighbours ought to have it cheaper just like we all assumed. Do they have it better though? Let’s take a look at out of bundle rates first. Remember out of bundle rates are what you will be charged if you have not bought any bundle.

MNOPrice in US$No. of active Subscribers in millions (for context)
Econet (Zim)0.156.4
Netone (Zim)0.074.7
Telecel (Zim)0.121.8
Vodacom (RSA)0.11 (R1.50)37.1
MTN (RSA)0.07 (R0.99)30.8
Cell C (RSA)0.08 (R1.10)15.3
Safaricaom (Kenya)0.04 (Kshs 4)25.9

Well well well. What is this? Prices in Zim and SA are not dissimilar. Netone is cheaper than the 3 SA companies. Safaricom in Kenya is a whole ‘nother beast though. It’s actually embarassing for the other companies.

Let’s look at bundles now. These are much harder to compare. There are no comparable data amounts or prices across the 3 countries. To simplify things we will look at how much data you get for about US$1 in a month. We will ignore promotions and other temporary packages.

MNOMonthly bundle (for US$1 unless otherwise indicated)Active Subscribers in millions
Econet (Zim)25mb (+25mb wifi)6.4
Netone (Zim)50mb4.7
Telecel (Zim)9.5mb1.8
Vodacom (RSA)30mb ($0.90)37.1
MTN (RSA)20mb ($0.90)30.8
Cell C (RSA)30mb ($0.90)15.3
Safaricom (Kenya)100mb ($0.96)25.9

Wow. Let us ignore the Telecel allocation. Let’s also ignore the Safaricom allocation. The Zim companies are actually cheaper than their SA counterparts. Surprising isn’t it. If we were to find the proportionate allocation for a dollar for the SA companies (100/90*30mb for Vodacom for example) they still would be more expensive than Netone and Econet. For Vodacom and Cell C it would be 33mb and 22mb for MTN. There is no such bundle though.

Where does that all leave us?

High data costs are not exclusive to Zimbabwe. There is not much between Zim and SA. Considering the population, size of economy and tax climate in SA compared to Zim, they are actually more expensive. No wonder #DataMustFall keeps trending in both countries. Kenya is miles (or kms) ahead and it’s not even close. The Kenyan government is particularly to thank for that and having a port doesn’t hurt either.

The emphasis of the comparison was between Zim and SA. We have millions of Zimbabweans there and they often tell us how much better it is that side. On account of this information I wonder where they get that. This Southern region needs overhauls in government attitude towards internet connectivity and the opportunities it provides. As we haggle Econet, Netone and Telecel to reduce data prices let us remember the problem is much bigger. It is a regional problem just as it is a government policy problem.







  1. Langton

    If a country is more developed, it follows that their goods and services are on the higher side

    1. Tinashe Nyahasha

      Necessarily? I don’t think so particularly when it comes to connectivity costs. Compare us to the European and North American economies to validate your claim Langton. Maybe the packages may be priced higher i.e the minimum a person can buy will be much more but the cost per MB is much lower

    2. MacdChip

      Bt taking your idea, data packages are far much cheaper in UK than what you get in Zim. You also get superior services.

      For example, if you are on EE, you get real high speed 4G network. If you are out, they have millions of wifi hotspots which you can connect to for free thereby saving your 4G data bundle. Thats what you get in advanced economy and more!

      1. Nancy

        you can actually call customer service for free on EE an tell them you feel you are paying to much they will give you more data or reduce your bill if you are on contract Zim is far from that kind of service

  2. Anonymous

    Population on its own does not mean anything. There is over investment in fixed assets in Zimbabwe relative to the population. So your conclusion that we are not expensive compared to SA is not true

  3. MacdChip

    It can look cheaper in term of numbers, but very expensive in terms of quality. You have to look quality in terms of how far your dollar can take. If you buy a $1 bundle:

    – how long does it last you

    – can you use when you want and whenever you want

    – is fast connection available where ever you are to use it

    – can you get a satisfactory answer of your data usage if you are not happy of your data consumption

    – can your data refunded of prolonged because of mno error

    1. tj

      very true indeed, considering the size of the country ZIM has the widest network coverage so far.likewise in some countries to get a network you still have to get to a higher place

    2. Robbie Savage

      But in this case the monthly bundle is the same in terms of quality. In all the cases the data is valid for 30 days and you can use it for whatever you want. The issue may be the 4G coverage in the countries. In the big cities there will be no difference between the countries. Same 4G, same validity period ( 30 days) and no restrictions on use. Customer service on the other hand is poor in SA and Zim. I don’t know about Kenya. The issue of data being depleted without suspiciously has been news in Zim and SA.

  4. Tonderai

    It’s very gd n inspired m

  5. Imi Vanhu Musadaro

    This is a poor comparison, where one conveniently picks one MNO for comparision in one instance and completely ignores others in the second instance. Zimbabwean data is more expensive than SA data, I fail to see how any other conclusion could be arrived to. With regards to why SA is further better Internet cost wise, home/businesss Internet is also way cheaper than products here. Remember, that you generally only use your mobile data when you don’t have wifi. The nett mobile data usage per individual is thus reduced as it is augmented by affordable home internet.

  6. Anonymous

    I live in SA too and still maintain we’re cheaper. Simple analogy you didn’t take into place when comparing bundle pricing is that when you buy higher denomination bundles, your discounts in SA are a lot better than those in Zim.
    How much does say 1GB monthly bundle cost in Zim vs SA and what do you get as extras?
    Also, how much speed does LTE-A give in Zim on average at that price compared to speed in SA?

    Having said that, please note that SA citizens are also in a data must fall fight/campaign so Zimbo’s are not unreasonable for being in such. 🙂

  7. Eheka

    Data is expensive comparing to the basic minimum wage individuals have and employment rate.

  8. Clearmind Chitekwe

    Still think there’s a huge difference though…