Cables used for internet connections.

Johannesburg - South Africa's digital economy is the most developed in Africa and one of the fastest growing in the world, according to an index released on Wednesday.

South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, and Nigeria were moving towards digital evolution, according to the MasterCard Digital Index.

Developed by the company and the Fletcher School at Tufts University, it tracks a country's movement toward digital evolution, gauges progress and assesses problems.

South Africa ranks 33 out of the 50 countries measured in digital readiness, defined by the markets' ability to support and encourage digital commerce and payments.

In Africa, it ranked ahead of Egypt (48), Kenya (49), and Nigeria (50).

South Africa also emerged as the fourth-fastest growing digital economy behind China, Malaysia, and Thailand.

Ted Iacobuzio, MasterCard vice president of global insights, said South Africa's speed of growth could be attributed to several factors.

These were the “rapidly increasing proportion” of people with internet access, an 86 percent adult cellphone penetration rate, and a highly developed telecommunications network.

“However, what is significant is that all four of the African countries measured share a common trait of moving at a high rate of speed toward digital evolution, demonstrating huge growth potential for e-commerce,” he said.

Iacobuzio said: “There are currently 2.9 billion internet users in the world, a feat that took over 20 years to achieve. The next billion users will enter the market much faster than this.

“A significant proportion of these will come from Africa, where the four countries studied - Egypt, Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria - all represent exceptional growth potential coupled with short-term opportunity.” - Sapa