Opinion: Why Mxit deserved to die

As many South Africans are no doubt aware, Mxit officially shut down just over two weeks ago. After battling a long and lengthy illness, the social platform officially decided to close its doors and donate all of its assets to The Reach Trust. While the service is still technically usable, the technology behind the platform will be relegated to serving local communities as a cheap means of communication.
As Theunis Jansen van Rensburg and I said on Episode 15 of Bandwidth Blog On Air, Mxit’s decline was largely due to the fact that the social platform obstinately refused to move onto smartphones until it was far too late, and, in doing so, lost a dramatic proportion of its user base.
In that, I have an issue – and I believe it’s the reason Mxit deserved to die.
For many of us – particularly those who grew up using the platform, as I did – Mxit has a special place in our hearts; the name alone reminds us of many youthful days, filled with invigorating conversation captivated by that irrepressible introduction: “hw u?” The harsh truth of the matter is Mxit could have, should have and would have done better had the service remained focused.
The development of mobile industry in Africa – and particularly South Africa – is an enormously important one. As South Africans, we live in a grossly unequal society in which access to the internet via a desktop or through a fixed line is a privilege, and not a right. The vast majority of our society, as academics have even posited, make use of mobile devices on 3G connections to access the internet and share information. Largely, this is done on feature phones and budget level smartphones.

“For many of us – particularly those who grew up using the platform, as I did – Mxit has a special place in our hearts.”

For a company such as Mxit – which informed the zeitgeist of social media as noughties youth such as myself experienced – to miss the changing trends in the South African economy extends further than ignorance, a lack of energy or even bad planning; it’s indicative of an utter laziness. One needn’t have looked far to see an apple ripe for plucking; yet Mxit failed to extend its arm and take it entirely.
To have elected to remain solely on feature phones for so long was indeed Mxit’s undoing. While it is true that feature phones still enjoy a massive market space in South Africa, an equal truth is that that is soon to be supplanted. Each year we see increasingly effective smartphones running Android or even Firefox OS (some having even been produced by networks such as Vodacom or MTN themselves) and it shan’t be long before the bottom end of Android becomes even greater under the auspices of Android One.
What renders Mxit’s failure as such a punishable offence to me is wilfull ignorance, and a presumption that South Africans would continue to use its services even as it made the lagging leap to the smartphone world. It goes without saying that in a market one should be competitive; and Mxit failed to punt itself over the arriving likes of BBM.
Let’s be clear: Mxit could have succeeded if it truly wanted to. Had the service been proactive enough in developing cost-savvy platforms for Android, iOS and BlackBerry, the messaging service could have competed with BBM. Mxit had nearly everything going for it; a well-known name, an excellent brand resonance, innovative channels and uses on the platform, and, at one time, the largest user-ship in South Africa. It is only due to a failure to innovate, reason and compete that Mxit lost out to the likes of BBM, where the expense of R60 for the BlackBerry internet service was chosen over the cent-per-message platform that Mxit offered.

“It goes without saying that in a market one should be competitive; and Mxit failed to punt itself over the arriving likes of BBM.”

WhatsApp, then, was the final nail in the coffin, though it would take Mxit years to realize it.
It wouldn’t have taken Mxit to succeed, or even metamorphise into a more competitive platform. And, largely, I’m glad that South Africans have moved onwards and upwards to using other services as their go-to-messaging platform. Idealistically, I’d prefer South Africans use a homegrown service such as Mxit, but, at the end of the day, the messaging service that connects as many people around the world as possible wins. BBM deserved it’s brief time on the throne, and long may WhatsApp reign before WeChat begins to march.
It’s novel that Mxit has decided to donate all of its intellectual properties and assets – and it is a decision I have a great deal of respect for. I hope that in future the ruins that was once the Mxit empire can birth a cost-savvy solution that can enable local and rural communities to communicate easily and effectively. Yet never again shall it be the platform every South African knowable used.
Ultimately, Mxit deserved to die because it didn’t defend its throne, and when it did, it was far too late. We need far less clutter and confusion in the digital world, and Mxit’s demise in South Africa will go a long way to ensuring that.
It was good while it lasted… except when it wasn’t.
What’re your thoughts? Be sure to let us know in the comments below, and check out our interview with Alan Knott-Craig on life after Mxit here!