South Africa is a country with a strange mixture of third world poverty and advanced infrastructure. It is the wealthiest country in Africa, but has a life expectancy of just 45. However, it is going through rapid economic changes and has seen huge social changes since Apartheid ended – although racial tensions are still high.


South Africa facts
Ethnic groups: 79.5 percent black, 9 percent white, 2.5 percent Asian, 9 percent other

Language: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu

Capital: Three capital cities – Pretoria, Bloemfontein and Cape Town. Largest city is Johannesburg.

Currency: Rand

National holidays: New Year’s Day (Jan 1), Human Rights Day (Mar 21), Good Friday and Easter Monday (move each year), Freedom Day (Apr 27), Workers’ Day (May 1), Youth Day (Jun 16), National Women’s Day (Aug 9), Heritage Day (Sep 24), Day of Reconciliation (Dec 16), Christmas Day (Dec 25), Day of Goodwill (Dec 26). There are also two public holidays, usually in May, that change date each year.

Business hours: Mon-Fri 8-5

The most commonly-used languages in South Africa are English and Afrikaans, although there are 11 official languages spoken in the country. The use of English varies around the countries – although it is commonly-spoken at a high level, some people tend to speak very directly whereas others are far more diplomatic. Humour is often used, especially in tense situations, and people generally address each other using their first names.

Business structures

Until recently, there were four main companies in control of 70 percent of the Johannesburg stock market, which has led to companies being very hierarchical. However, since the end of apartheid, governments have tried to reduce state control of businesses as well as the power held by large companies. As a result, South Africa is now home to more international businesses and as such structures are becoming gradually more varied.

Always bear in mind that trade unions have a huge amount of power in South Africa and can act in a very militant way.

The South African business world tends to be strongly male-dominated – women may receive less respect than they are used to. If this happens it is important to remain calm.


As with business structures, the way in which meetings operate are likely to vary around South Africa. You may encounter very traditional businesses dominated by white businessmen, or new businesses being started up by local black Africans, or multi-national corporations. It is always a good idea to show that you have done your research and are able to adapt to local policies and ideas.

Avoid the hard sell approach – it is generally considered as too pushy in South Africa.

Team work

Due to the racial and ethnic tensions across South Africa, it can be difficult to put a team together. It is not as simple as grouping people as black or white – there are ethnic groups such as English, Afrikaans, Zulu and Xhosa resident in the country. Groups will not automatically work well together just because it is what the company expects of them.


South Africa is a conservative country. Men should stick to suits and women should also dress smartly. If you meet associates on a social basis, ensure you do not dress too casually.