Digital All Stars is a series of articles which aims to celebrate the best of South African digital. The articles, which will appear on Memeburn and Ventureburn, recognise and celebrate South Africa’s best digital entrepreneurs, business people, advertisers, and media professionals among others.
Sure, data might be expensive and smartphones haven’t reached everyone just yet, but that hasn’t stopped South Africans from taking to video in a massive way over the past several years.
We aren’t just a nation of YouTube viewers though, because we also play host to a fascinating variety of South African YouTubers. So who are the biggest players in South Africa then? And what constitutes being a big YouTube personality?
Lists like these often degenerate into a case of “who knows who” rather than a true gauge of popularity. But we decided to stick to the numbers (specifically October’s subscriber count), using SocialBlade to figure out the top YouTuber personalities in South Africa. To be clear, we’re only looking at individuals or duos and aren’t listing YouTube channels backed by companies and TV channels.
As for SocialBlade, it pulls views and subscribers via YouTube’s own API, although there is a slight delay between YouTube’s updated stats and SocialBlade.
A relatively new entry on the list, Nicole Eddy first started uploading videos less than a year ago, but she’s quickly made a name for herself on YouTube.
Eddy’s videos chronicle her travel exploits, as well as various South Africa/Cape Town-themed videos. And she’s found an eager and loyal audience as a result of her work.
Eddy’s two most popular videos, featuring her trips to Ireland and Los Angeles, both sit at just below the 200 000 view mark.
Owning a tiger seems like a surefire way to get attention on social media, right? So it’s not surprising to see Michael Jamison’s channel attract attention.
Jamison owns “a tiger or two” along with 16 dogs, but obviously, it’s the felines that receive the vast majority of airtime. From general life and funny moments, all is captured on the channel.
The channel has attracted mainstream attention as well, after the Huffington Post and UK-based Daily Mail covered one of Jamison’s clips.
A South African entrepreneur based in the UK and US, Miller’s channel has quickly gained the views since joining YouTube in July 2013.
Miller, who founded tutoring firm Teach Me 2 and ill-fated video service Storie, treats his channel like a vlog. So that means plenty of insight into his life as well as the occasional spot of advice.
The YouTuber has gone under the radar for the most part, but there’s no doubting that he’s earned the views and subscriber numbers to hit the list.
As a four-year-old, he might not be running his own YouTube account (his dad handles matters), but Oratilwe ‘DJ Arch Jr’ Hlongwane has been racking up the views thanks to his turntable skills.
DJ Arch Jr’s performances went viral last year after an appearance on SA’s Got Talent, the youngster eventually winning the competition. But the success has also translated into longer term success as a DJ, having played across the country and even being invited to perform in Nigeria this month.
Arch Jr’s talent has also translated into sponsorships from the likes of Beats and Mini Cooper.
Director Dan Mace has a ton of experience in his field, having worked with the likes of Red Bull and CNN while also earning silver at Cannes. But Mace decided to make self-funded short films on YouTube as well, attracting thousands of views in the process.
The videos see Mace showing footage from his travels (often featuring surfing) or just showcasing short films in general — but his material often has a positive message to go with it. Mace’s most popular clip, dubbed ‘Angola – The Beauty Within’, has racked up over 500 000 views.
Meanwhile, Mace’s videos for other clients have reached as high as 16-million views.
Lague’s racked up the views thanks to his game development tutorials, shedding light on a rapidly expanding industry.
Lague focuses heavily on tutorials for budding game developers, covering Unity, C# and Blender on his channel. So if you’re looking to make your first game, this should be on your watchlist.
The YouTuber is also one of the few locals successfully making a chunk of cash on the Patreon platform, which allows people to directly pay him on a monthly basis. At the time of writing, Lague was earning US$686 per month from viewers.
Joining this list of South African YouTubers, Blessing Xaba’s YouTube channel has just five videos uploaded to it. So what’s the deal, then?
Well, Xaba is a South African actor with notable roles in the Spud trilogy and Mzanzi Magic’s The Road. So it stands to reason that his fans quickly subscribed to catch up on his antics.
Xaba’s YouTube activity has been sporadic initially, having first uploaded a video in 2014, with the next one appearing in 2015. But he’s released two videos in the past month — perhaps proof that YouTube is a bigger focus for him.
Is Quentin Watt the Sebastian Lague of web development or vice-versa? Either way, Watt has carved out a large and loyal following.
Nevertheless, the YouTuber has been used as an example of locals making it big on the service, having been mentioned by htxt.africa and IOL.
One of the more spectacular local YouTube channels around, Rob Vamplew’s channel has him uploading scenes from the iDube Game Reserve.
These aren’t always for the faint of heart either, varying from predators making kills and mating to animal tussles and more. And these aren’t merely mobile camera clips he’s shooting, as he’s getting some close-up, detailed footage courtesy of a dedicated Sony 4K camcorder.
Vamplew, who uploaded his first video back in 2008, has also received coverage from the likes of TechCentral and ITWeb thanks to his prolific rise.
One of the newer entries on the list, 18-year-old Dylan Dalton seems to be using the Caspar Effect as well.
Dalton’s videos tend to consist of teenage pranks, challenges and vlogs, with his ‘Pranking my X’ series being his most popular. In fact, Dalton’s ‘Pranking My Girlfriend With Song Lyrics’ video is sitting at 1.1-million views (doubling his second most popular clip).
The YouTuber hasn’t been blowing up the mainstream media just yet, but his rise so far has been impressive nonetheless.
Say what you will about the subject of hunting, but it’s clear that this YouTube channel is a popular one in South Africa.
Matt Dubber started uploading airsoft-related videos in 2013, featuring tips, rifle reviews and footage from hunts around the country. Again, the channel doesn’t shy away from the actual hunting footage, so those who love bunnies and other furry critters might want to give this one a skip.
Dubber’s most popular video is ‘Egyptian Goose Pest Control With an Airgun’ (2.2-million views), followed by ‘Headshots vs Heartshots’ (1.5-million views).
Julia Anastasopoulos’s Suzelle character went viral in 2014, being featured in everything from TV interviews to magazines, thanks to her offbeat DIY videos.
The channel first started out with ‘How to Drill Without Making a Mess’ back in 2014, and it’s seen a slew of views and subscribers ever since. Her most popular videos include ‘How to Make a Cinderblock Bench’ (2.2 million views) and ‘How to Make a Braai Pie’ (930 000 views).
Suzelle has even appeared in campaigns for the likes of Takealot and Cell C, serving as more proof of her mainstream status.
One of South Africa’s most prominent YouTube comedy acts, Derick Watts & The Sunday Blues focus on pranks, pop culture, potty humour, South African life and everything in between.
The duo, Gareth Allison and Nic Smal, started out in 2011, with their Rebecca Black parody (Braaiday) garnering over 260 000 views. However, their most popular video, dubbed ‘Stop the Knot’, has earned them close to 10 million views.
Other notable clips by the comedy act include ‘How Humans Eat Their Food’ and their Anaconda Fart Remix. The latter saw widespread coverage from the likes of 9GAG, TMZ, Perez Hilton, Uproxx and Billboard, bringing a ton of international coverage for the duo.
Getting into the Let’s Play scene at about the same time as the previous entry, Dragnoz initially started out as a personal account before transitioning to Minecraft.
Johan Kruger, who goes by the handle Dragnoz, transitioned to the world-building videogame in 2012, quickly amassing a ton of followers in the process.
Kruger is also an advocate for using the game in the classroom, giving talks on the issue and creating educational projects using Minecraft. In fact, this year saw Kruger collaborate on a Museum of London project, recreating the Great Fire of London in the game.
Who knew that a Minecraft YouTuber was one of South Africa’s biggest YouTube personalities?
Michael Philips, also known as MCPEMike, is one of the few local YouTubers making a name for themselves in the Let’s Play phenomenon, filming themselves having fun in video games. Mike was a relatively early arrival to the rapidly growing scene, having joined YouTube in 2012. As the name implies, his channel is devoted to Minecraft: Pocket Edition, being the mobile version of the all-conquering videogame.
The YouTuber has been keeping up a constant stream of videos, detailing glitches, showcasing his creations and offering tutorials.
Yes, it’s no coincidence that we have another Lee on the list, as Theodora is Caspar’s sister. But she’s managed to carve out a top five spot thanks to some insightful content and a faithful following too.
Lee, who joined YouTube in 2010 and uploaded her first video in 2012, generally uploads videos dealing with advice for young women, her life in general and some light-hearted content.
The YouTuber is also making a splash with Cell C, as she mentors some of the contestants in the Break The Net contest.
The most famous living South African right now? Well, we’d still give that gong to Charlize Theron, but Trevor Noah’s gig as the host of the Daily Show has certainly seen millions of eyes on him.
Noah’s own YouTube account, which saw its first video uploaded four years ago, hasn’t been super active since he picked up the host position. Nevertheless, it still attracts loads of views whenever he does upload material.
The comedian uses YouTube to post previews of his comedy specials. And thanks to his new-found success, a lot more people are looking into the late night host.
Much like Caspar Lee, Cobus Potgieter is part of the first wave of South Africans to gain a big following on the then-nascent YouTube platform. In fact, his alternative account (cobus) boasts an impressive 91 000 subscribers as well.
Potgieter joined YouTube in August 2006, standing out thanks to his lengthy series of drum covers. As for most successful videos? That would be an Avenged Sevenfold cover (9.2 million views), followed by a cover of ‘Kings and Queens’ by 30 Seconds to Mars (6.9 million views).
The drummer has since taken to forming a project and live touring, making for an interesting transition, and one we hope works out for him.
Was there ever any doubt that this local duo would appear on the list? Die Antwoord have blazed a trail of internet superstardom following the release of ‘I Fink You Freeky’.
They haven’t quite reached the lofty 85 million views of that original video, but ‘Ugly Boy’ (71.5 million views) and ‘Baby’s On Fire’ (52 million views) show that Ninja and Yolandi are more than just one hit wonders.
Throw in mainstream coverage in Chappie and regular mentions in the world’s biggest publications and you’ve got one of South Africa’s hottest exports.
Beating the second-placed entrant by over five million subscribers, Caspar Lee rose to prominence thanks to hordes of teenage and pre-teen girls eager to follow his exploits.
Lee is still earning subscribers at a steady rate, ensuring that he’ll be making YouTube cash for a while yet.
So what kind of videos does he upload then? Well, his over 230 uploads vary from pranks and challenges to celebrity partnerships. Nevertheless, with oodles of mainstream publicity and a movie, it’s clear that, at the very least, Lee is at the apex of his fame.
It’s also telling that Lee’s second account is the number two account in the country — evidence of how far behind other South African YouTubers are in comparison.