Good Manners International: South Africa

We previously gave you some insight into the key business manners in Portugal. This time, we show you how to best behave in South Africa on your next business trip to this fascinating country.

South Africa is home to an increasingly important SELLBYTEL location: Johannesburg. The nation has a population of approximately 40 million and unites six major ethnic groups: Afrikaner, Colored/ Cape Malay, Bantu, English, Chinese and Indian. They speak 11 official languages: English and Afrikaans – the latter being derived from the Dutch heritage – are spoken by most South Africans. Frequently referred to as the “Rainbow Nation”, South Africa is characterized by an ever expanding multiculturalism.

Constituting Africa’s industrial center, the country is the largest and best developed economy. Its GDP per capita makes it one of the 50 wealthiest nations in the world. And, with abundant mineral resources, the largest rail and airline cargo operations in Africa, and strong government support for exporting efforts, South Africa is one of the world’s most vibrant emerging market economies.

The following article provides an overview of the South African business culture to help you look and behave at your best during your next business encounter with clients and colleagues in South Africa.

Business Meeting: Relationships & Communication

Take your time with meetings and build a relationship. South Africans don’t like to be rushed, so extended networking and relationship-building are crucial for long-term business success, a key concern to most business people. The initial meeting is often used to establish a personal rapport and to determine if you are trustworthy. Plus, for the most part, South Africans intend to maintain harmonious working relationships. Hence confrontations are being avoided. Quite interestingly, many people like using metaphors and sports analogies to demonstrate a point. Finally, most South Africans prefer face-to-face meetings to more impersonal communication tools, such as email or telephone. After a meeting, it is always a good idea to send a follow-up email summarizing what was decided and what is planned.

Business Meeting: Scheduling

In South Africa, appointments are very common and should be made as far in advance as possible. It is recommended to avoid meetings from mid-December to mid-January or during the two weeks surrounding Easter, as these are the main vacation times.

Business Meeting: Meals

Business lunches and dinners are very common in South Africa. Business breakfasts are also quite popular. Serious negotiations are generally not carried out during meals, business in general may still be discussed, though.

If you are invited to your South African business partner’s home for dinner, bring flowers, chocolates or a good South African wine for the host. Symbolic gifts are always appreciated. Also, be ready to take a chance on new food. If you’re very lucky or you get invited to a very fancy restaurant, you might in fact get the chance to try some rare meats such as hippo, ostrich or crocodile. So vegetarians should be prepared to face some humorous comments, because many South Africans are very fond of meat.

Business Meeting: Negotiation

It is imperative to develop mutual trust before negotiating. It should also be noted that South Africans tend to strive for consensus and win-win situations when negotiating, whereby both sides benefit from the transaction. So for the most part, South Africans take a very fair approach to negotiating. For this reason, you should avoid confrontation and aggressive bargaining over price. Final decision-making may be concentrated at the top of the company, yet ultimate decisions are often made after the top management’s prior consultation with subordinates.

Business Meeting: Dress Code

Business attire in South Africa – just like in many other progressive countries – is becoming more informal in many companies. However, for the first meeting, it is best to dress more conservatively. Men are recommended to wear dark colored business suits, whilst women should wear elegant business skirts or dresses. On rare occasions, you might even come across people dressed in traditional African garments during business events or evening dinners.


We hope that this article gave you some useful ideas on how to present yourself and make the best possible impression during your next business visit in South Africa!

For further information on our business in South Africa, go ahead and visit our SELLBYTEL Group website.

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