Business dos and don'ts in South Africa

Rvo,  Saturday, 14 October 2017

Savannah in South 

In each country there are rules of conduct that you must take into account when doing business. Below you will find a few rules of conduct for the business culture in South Africa.


  • Take into account the multicultural composition of the South African population in trade contacts.
  • Adjust your behaviour accordingly.
  • Please note that it sometimes takes some time during negotiations before you win the trust of the potential trading partner.
  • Smoking is not always appreciated, but your South African partner will not readily refuse permission to smoke.

  • Clothing

  • In the summer period from December to April, wear a light summer suit or piece suit. In Cape Town you will need a sweater or vest in the evening.
  • From June to September, normal winter clothes are suitable.
  • On formal occasions, you wear eveningwear.
  • The South African business clothing is fairly informal. Casual Friday is well established in many companies.
  • Avoid wearing' Madiba' shirts (shirts) at meetings.

  • Service culture

  • South Africans are very helpful, but not always service-oriented. Often you have to enforce service yourself.
  • Most South Africans live from day to day. They usually do not carry out long-term planning.
  • Business people in South Africa are often slow to follow up on potential foreign partners.
  • South Africans quickly recognise opportunities, but do not always have the means to respond directly.

  • Negotiate

  • Before proceeding to business, have an informal conversation with your South African partner. Creating personal contact is highly appreciated.
  • The best way to enter the market is through an informal presentation (where you present your business product convincingly) combined with genuine personal interest.
  • Keep in mind that many things go via local agents.
  • Some South Africans are afraid to admit mistakes. They also often do not dare to say no. Take this into account.
  • Enthusiasm and wanting to satisfy the customer sometimes lead to promises from your business partner that he cannot keep.

  • Business arrangements

  • Plan business arrangements well in advance before traveling to South Africa and make sure you get the right people to talk to.
  • A South African does not expect business gifts at an initial meeting.
  • Do not talk about politics, apartheid or crime. Climate and sport are better discussion topics.

  • Business cards

    Change business cards at the beginning of an appointment. The card must contain the name, title, company name and contact details (in particular telephone and e-mail address) preferably with the international area code.


    In business life, English is the usual language, but discuss the language choice beforehand. This will help you avoid uncomfortable situations. An interlocutor who speaks Afrikaans with you may find it offensive to switch to the English language. But do not speak Dutch - African to a clearly english-speaking interlocutor.

    This article of is based on . Translated from the Dutch language by Jos Deuling.

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