South Africa: Blockchain: The "Trust Machine" That Africa Needs?

Last Updated: 13 February 2017
Article by Simon Polrot
Most Popular Article in South Africa, February 2017

Africa is an ever-increasing source of growth for international businesses. Previously considered a luxury, it has become a necessity for those who wish to stay competitive in the global economy and seize the opportunities offered by the rapid development of the African interior market.

New technologies play a determining role in this, as they will enable Africa to go directly from the state of disorganization which has long prevailed in numerous areas of its economy to a state of ultimate organization using the latest technology, and this, with no transition phase. The technological leap will spare the continent from having to go through the stages where various technologies replace one another.

Lionel ZINSOU, former Prime Minister of Benin likes to say that "Economic developments which do not occur anywhere else are happening in Africa". The "leap frog" phenomenon described above is the perfect illustration of this. It is principally in Africa that the future of the telecommunications and banking sectors will be played out. The technology will determine which of the two sectors will reap the most profit. The "ORANGE MONEY" project clearly shows how this telecommunications group (who by its turnover is becoming more and more African) plans to rock the boat in the banking sector.

However, other technological breakthroughs have appeared on the horizon and should also accelerate economic development in Africa.

Among them, it is important to note blockchain. This technology gave rise to the Bitcoin revolution and money can now be sent in the same way as an SMS, without going through a financial institution. Each transaction is registered in the blockchain, a freely accessible public register, and stored in a decentralized manner, without intermediation by third parties.

Examples of African countries where Bitcoin is gaining ground include Kenya and Uganda where it is used generally for money transfers. And, in South Africa, the Standard Bank has already tested a clearing platform in Bitcoins.

Modern blockchains, starting with the Ethereum blockchain, have increased the types of possible use for this distributed ledger by making it completely programmable. The automatic exchange of crypto-currency or other digital assets thus becomes possible, along with the automatic and transparent processing of proof of existence of documents.

Beyond its crypto-currency uses, blockchain could thus bring much more to Africa, for example: the credibility of real estate deeds is a significant factor and can either help or hinder economic development. Where these documents lack credibility, individual investments in the properties concerned will obviously be limited. The situation impacts the entire economy, which suffers as a result of these legal uncertainties.

In Africa, the lack of a trustworthy land and property register is a major obstacle to the economic development of the continent. Indeed, in a majority of African countries, over 90% of rural areas are not registered.

In this context, the creation of virtual land and property registers using blockchain technology could give African land titles the credibility they currently lack by guaranteeing their trustworthiness. Initiatives in this respect have begun in Ghana and are sure to increase throughout the continent.

The possibility of accessing a virtual register, open to all, which lists the successive operations concerning an individual property (identified by its GPS coordinates) and the existence of any disputes concerning its ownership, should make it possible to accelerate real estate transactions on the African continent.

Once the deeds are secure, it will obviously be easier for banks to accept them as collateral and grant loans on this basis.

The example of the land register can be extended to other types of use. Blockchain can be used to support numerous projects: management of an identity registers, intellectual property, energy sharing, automatic payment clearing...

The success of this technology in Africa will require that the public authorities make the investments necessary to enable efficient exploration and use of this technology by the economic players in Africa. This would make an excellent project for the World Bank and, in particular the African Development Bank ("ADB").

Admittedly, Blockchain technology currently has its limits. Firstly, it is still under development. Although the essential technical foundations have been widely tried and tested on the Bitcoin blockchain (signature and security of transactions, public accessibility and immutability of the chain), the more complex protocols are still being developed (starting with the Ethereum blockchain). These technologies also suffer, in general, from a number of teething problems (issues with processing a large number of transactions, energy-intensive, complex technology, etc.).

In addition, the lack of a true legal framework, apart from a few exceptions, is a real obstacle to the implementation of the types of use identified. Estonia (where a complete body of rules is being prepared) is the principle exception which proves the rule. In this respect, questions arise concerning the means of proof for blockchain transactions, the precise legal status of crypto-currencies, or the governing law rules which would apply to contracts where the parties do not reside in the same country, the contract is made in yet another country, and the property in question is located in an altogether different country.

The creation of a specific legal framework will be necessary, but this will take time. Given the potential of this technology, it is unlikely that the economic players will wait; they will call upon legal practitioners who will use the existing legal tools to define the phenomenon and the various types of use, even where these existing tools may not be entirely suited to the job.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.