Understanding on how to do business in South Africa - Hoshino Shiro

Understanding on how to do business in South Africa

Understanding on how to do business in South Africa

South African business culture is characterized by entrepreneurial spirit, personal achievement and cultural sensitivity. As society is multi-ethnic, the values ​​and behaviors of individuals differ greatly depending on the micro-cultural groups to which they belong. 

But patience, tolerance and creativity are the values ​​that dominate many South Africans. The business culture of the people is similar to Western culture: efficiency and competitiveness. This cultural diversity can make “team building” work necessary.

South Africa Business Culture

The style of hierarchy can vary depending on the kind of companies you do business with: it tends to be vertical in traditional companies and multinationals, while power is more shared in start-ups. More and more middle managers are proactively seeking to participate in decision-making. 

In all cases, respect for elders and rank is essential. When decisions involve consultation with subordinates, processes can be slower and longer.
Regardless of cultural background, a good personal relationship often forms the basis of a successful business. This relationship is developed in face-to-face meetings rather than over email or phone. First dates should be about getting to know your partners better on a personal level.

The first contact

It can sometimes be difficult to do business if you are unknown. Establishing a business relationship often requires an intermediary to send an official letter of introduction in order to gain the trust of potential partners. It is often necessary to contact one or two months in advance to obtain an appointment, and to confirm it by calling the day before. Summer holidays are to be avoided (mid-December to mid-January). 

It can be difficult to arrange meetings with senior managers at first; you may need to start by meeting with lower-level managers. To communicate, South Africans rely on the telephone and email. The use of fax is still common.

Time management

In general, South Africans value punctuality, although the black population may have a more flexible attitude towards time. You should always arrive early as many businesses and public buildings require visitors to pass security checks. 

Meetings and official appointments usually start and end on time. The South African approach to deadlines is generally flexible, so it is recommended to include strict deadlines in contracts.

Greetings and titles

It is advisable to shake hands firmly (often quite long), looking your fellow South Africans in the eye. Some women don't shake hands and just nod, so wait for the women to offer their hand first. South Africans can be very tactile and hugs are common. 

Greetings are quite informal and include time for social discussions. In general, when first meeting someone, South Africans use "Mr" or "Mrs", except in the academic sector where professional titles are important. When addressing a woman, it is advisable to avoid using the term “Miss”. First names are often used, but it is advisable to wait until you have been invited to do so.

The gift policy

The exchange of gifts is not usual, without being very surprising. Gifts are not considered bribery, so it is polite to always accept them. They are usually opened immediately. Members of the Xhosa tribe tend to give and receive gifts with both hands.

The dress code

Even though business attire is becoming more casual in many companies, you will be expected to be more classic: dark-colored suits for men and suits or dresses for women. When business meetings take place in a social setting, it is possible to dress more casually while remaining formal.

Business cards

In South Africa, the exchange of business cards is common practice. It takes place during introductions and should be treated with respect. It's polite to compliment your South African contact's business card. A personal email address, mobile phone and fax number must be provided and the card must be in English.

Meeting management

The initial meeting often serves to establish a personal connection and a relationship of trust. In-person meetings are preferable to telephone or Skype appointments. During discussions, it is common to have small talk before getting down to business.
Before meetings, it is advisable to find out about the current differences between populations in South Africa, so that you can adapt your behavior, ideas and policies to suit local conditions. Original slide presentations are not recommended, but it is a good idea to include quality and self-explanatory visuals throughout your presentation.

Generally, South Africans are looking for a win-win situation. It is therefore necessary to avoid confrontations, aggressive behaviors and techniques of negotiation and sale. Business proposals and requests should be realistic to avoid excessive haggling.
Communication will be different depending on who you are dealing with. Most of the time, English-speaking South Africans will seek to maintain harmonious trade relations, seek to be diplomatic and make their point indirectly. Nevertheless, Afrikaners are more direct communicators. Silence is often a sign that the situation has become uncomfortable. 

Humor is generally used to ease tensions. During discussions, it is considered rude to interrupt someone who is speaking and this will be interpreted as a sign of impatience with the decision-making process. After a meeting, it is advisable to send a letter summarizing what was decided and the next steps.
Business lunches and dinners are very common in South Africa, as well as business breakfasts. Business meals are not intended to conduct negotiations, but rather to discuss business in a more relaxed setting.


Opening days and hoursIn general, working hours on weekdays are from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and from 2:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The offices are closed on Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, shops are open until 1:00 p.m. and banks until 11:00 a.m.


New YearJanuary 1st
human rights dayMarch 21st
Good FridayFriday before Easter Sunday
family dayMonday after Easter Sunday
freedom dayApril 27
Labor DayMay 1
youth dayJune 16
national women's dayAugust 9
Heritage DaySeptember 24
reconciliation dayDecember 17
ChristmasDecember 25th
Mutual Understanding DayDecember 26
Compensation for public holidays: If a public holiday falls during a weekend, it is moved to the following Monday.

Times when businesses are usually closed

Christmas (2-3 days)December 25-27
New Year (1-2 days)January 1-2
Summer holidaysA week between Christmas and New Year's Day.

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