JOHANNESBURG - South Africa's financial conduct regulator has approved 59 operating licences for crypto currency businesses, an official said on Wednesday, as Africa's most industrialised economy makes inroads with regulating the asset class.

In 2022, the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) declared crypto assets to be financial products and said they needed to be regulated in order to protect financial customers from risks and prevent money laundering and terrorism financing.

Regulating the assets also gives the central bank's Financial Surveillance Department explicit powers to require South African crypto asset trading platforms to report transactions involving crypto assets.

Speaking at a financial sector conference, Felicity Mabaso, a divisional executive at the FSCA, said the authority had received 355 licence applications, with 59 approved as of Tuesday. About 262 applications are in progress.

The authorised service providers will be subject to ongoing supervision after licensing, while investigations into people conducting crypto-related financial services without authorisation will begin, she added.

(Reporting by Nqobile Dludla, Editing by Mark Potter)