South Africa heads north

(BestGrowthStock) – South African companies and investors are beginning to use their base in Africa’s biggest and most sophisticated market as a springboard to move into the continent’s fast-growing frontier markets.

Here are four companies leading the charge:

* MTN (MTNJ.J: )

Launched in 1994, South Africa-based MTN has grown rapidly to become the largest mobile phone company in Africa, with operations in 16 countries on the continent, and a presence in a further five countries in the Middle East.

As of end-March, it had 124 million subscribers. Its customer base grew by a year-on-year 7 percent — 7.6 million users — in the first quarter, although its South African arm showed very little growth in what is already a saturated market.

* STANDARD BANK (SBKJ.J: )

Established in 1862 as The Standard Bank of British South Africa, Standard Bank has expanded from its original base in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth to become the continent’s biggest bank, with a presence in 17 countries.

It also operates in 16 markets beyond Africa, and in late 2007 signed a landmark partnership deal with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) (1398.HK: )(601398.SS: ) that involved selling the world’s most valuable bank a 20 percent stake for $5.5 billion.

* SHOPRITE (SHPJ.J: )

From humble beginnings as a small chain of South African supermarkets in 1979, Shoprite has become Africa’s Number One grocer, with 71 stores in 16 African markets outside South Africa, where it runs more than 300 outlets.

Its successful push north, which started in Zambia in 1995, has been based on its South African formula of offering basic household goods at cheap prices.

* NASPERS (NPNJn.J: )

Originally a print media business in South Africa only, Naspers has evolved in the last 20 years into a multinational electronic media firm with pay television and internet interests in much of sub-Saharan Africa, China, India, Russia, Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

Its African satellite pay-TV operations mean it is possible to watch European soccer in even the most far-flung and remote corner of the continent.

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 (Reporting by Ed Cropley; Editing by Simon Robinson and Sara Ledwith)

South Africa heads north