Is the relaunch of M-PESA South Africa scheduled for 6th February? Nedbank customers logging on to their bank accounts today have been greeted with a cryptic message that suggests the service is going to be shut down completely as of that date, but Vodacom says that a relaunch rather than a closure of the service is still on the cards.

M-PESA, which is provided by Vodacom and Nedbank in South Africa, allows financial transfers to take place over SMS. Despite it’s success elsewhere in the world, it has failed to find an audience here even though around a third of South Africans still do not have access to traditional banking services.

Just before Christmas, Nedbank informed M-PESA customers by SMS that they would no longer be able access the money in their accounts via ATMs, ahead of a revamp which was promised back in November. The former CEO of Safaricom in Kenya, Michael Joseph, has been drafted in to help turn the South African version into something more attractive – probably using debit cards and ATMs, more like a ‘normal’ bank account.

Today, users of the Nedbank online banking service are being greeted with a different popup which sounds quite drastic.

The Nedbank popup greeting customers today.
The Nedbank popup greeting customers today.

According to the popup, M-PESA customers will only have access to their accounts via any means until 6th February, after which the service will be shut off. The notification promises new services for mobile money transfers directly to cellphones “in the coming months”.

While Nedbank may be offering new services, however, a spokesperson for Vodacom told htxt.africa today that a revamped M-PESA is still on the cards for some time this year – but further details won’t be revealed just yet. Reading between the lines, that could mean the new service will be launched with a different banking partner.

We’ve asked Nedbank to confirm or deny that they will be involved with the new M-PESA service, but have received no answer.

More than 18 million people use M-PESA in Kenya, where it has evolved from a service for enabling city dwellers to send money to rural family members into a fully fledged payment system accepted at many retail outlets in just six years. According to mobile operator Safaricom, almost R11.5 bn of currency is currently deposited in M-PESA accounts within the country. By lowering transaction fees and giving people without bank accounts the ability to save and transfer cash over long distances, M-PESA has been widely credited with revolutionising the ability of the poorest to manage their money.

(Main image – cc Radarmax)

Adam is the Editorial Director at htxt media. He has been writing about technology for almost two full decades now. In a previous life, he was the editor of PC Format and Digital Camera Shopper in the UK, before going on to work as a freelance journalist for seven years. His work has appeared in or on Stuff, The Guardian, Linux Format, TechRadar, Wired.co.uk, PC Gamer, Green Futures, The Journalist, The Ecologist and The Review. Adam moved to South Africa in 2012 and loves 3D printers, MakerFairs and tech hubs. He hates seafood. None of his friends remember this when cooking.