British billionaire and Virgin founder Richard Branson apologised on Tuesday for posting a picture on Twitter he admitted "clearly lacked diversity" as he launched his new entrepreneurship development centre in South Africa.

On Monday he tweeted a picture of himself and eight others captioned "We aim to become the heart of entrepreneurship in Southern Africa".

It featured no blacks in a country where they make up 80 percent of the population.

That sparked outrage as racial tensions remain high and the majority black population is still economically marginalised 25 years after the demise of apartheid.

"Where did you find so many white people in South Africa?" one tweet said.

"I wish there were more BLACK entrepreneurs in this picture," @NomsBomba said.

The picture sparked a furore on social media
The picture sparked a furore on social media GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Drew Angerer

Following the flurry of angry and sarcastic tweets targeting the mogul, who runs a chain of gyms in South Africa and whose airline daily flies the London-Johannesburg route, Branson deleted the tweet and apologised.

"The Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship is for all South Africans, but yesterday's choice of a photo to go with my tweet clearly lacked diversity. Apologies," he said.

The centre serves as business development hub aimed at supporting entrepreneurs.