The majority of South Africa's internet users are young, black, and access the worldwide web using cellphones, the SA Network Society Project said on Wednesday.
A report released on Tuesday found that one third of adults used the internet and two-thirds of these spoke an African language at home.
Lead researcher Indra de Lanerolle said in a statement that the study indicated a "new wave" of internet users had emerged in recent years.
"Their presence is something that business, government, political parties, and civil society should be responding to."
In 2008, only 15 percent of South Africans used the internet, but the survey found this had risen to 34 percent in 2012. At this rate, more than half the adult population would be using the internet by 2014.
Fifty-two percent of first-time users accessed the internet from their phones and four out of 10 internet users survived on less than R1500 per month.
One of the greatest barriers to internet use was low levels of English literacy.
About one-fifth of South African adults could not read or write English with ease, and three percent of these were internet users.
The internet needed to become more multi-lingual to cater to this potential audience, De Lanerolle said.
"...And until internet connection speeds are fast enough to easily enable access to voice and video content as well as text, then millions of South Africans who should be part of the next wave of users are going to remain locked out."