Cultural Differences – South Africa

In today’s democratic South Africa, multi-culturalism has become a way of life with a lot of open-mindedness and global thinking. In the Rainbow Nation you will meet about 70 percent black Africans, but also many different ethnic groups. 16 percent of the population is white. The Boers are the descendants of the Dutch colonial power. They call themselves Afrikaners and speak Afrikaans. The English-speaking South Africans are descendants of British settlers. About ten percent are Coloureds, citizens of mixed descent. The indigenous people, the Khoisan at the Cape, make up a further ten percent of the total population. They all bring with them their own cultural imprints as well as a wide range of religious beliefs.

The country’s diverse ethnic composition is particularly important when it comes to selecting personnel, as companies have to give preference to applicants from disadvantaged population groups with the same qualifications as well as meet certain quotas. Even as a foreign entrepreneur you must always be able to give precise information on how you will recruit your project team members, how a South African or binational team will be composed and how you intend to recruit them. Give these issues a higher priority than you would in your home country.

Taking ethnic diversity into account

The ethnic origin of a South African is also evident in other areas of business life. You might get the impression that companies run by black Africans have particularly strong hierarchies. Often only the founder and owner makes a decision. For you as a foreign business partner, the task will then be to slowly work your way up the ladder with numerous preliminary discussions. Establish a good personal relationship with all the interlocutors on the lower levels of the hierarchy until you have been passed on to the final decision-maker. Your personal appearance and trustworthiness are of great importance.

Time spent networking is time well spent

Networking plays an important role in South African business life. Relationships are nurtured, personal meetings and the associated trust building are extremely important. That’s why it makes sense to casually let new business partners know who you personally know in the industry and with whom you work. Familiar names contribute to personal trustworthiness. Therefore, invest some time in order to build up a sustainable, representative relationship network in South Africa. You will benefit from this in the long term.

Communicate with sensitivity

The tremendous importance of relationships can also be seen in the way South Africans communicate. Criticism has a very negative effect on South Africans, as it jeopardizes good personal relations. Therefore, do not address critical points directly and above all not in front of other people. You will make a lot of progress if you are lavish with praise and always emphasize the positive. If necessary, you can then carefully and discreetly include critical matters.

Benefit-focused presentations

Positive aspects should also always be in the foreground during presentations. Show your South African partners how they can benefit directly from your product or project. Offer convincing examples, use figurative language with many metaphors and analogies, as well as visual means with the help of which you can explain the many advantages you offer. However, you should not hide any disadvantages so that you do not give the impression that you want to deny them. Your credibility is extremely important.

Basically, you as an individual are at the center of your presentation. Create familiarity and trust by sharing something about yourself, expressing your attachment to your own company, your products and to your new South African business partners. Keep your presentation within a reasonable timeframe, do not overload your slides with unnecessary effects or excessively detailed information. Avoid elaborate explanations and leave time for questions and discussions that will bring you closer to your potential business partners and their opinions.

Show your esteem and appreciation

If you are expecting a delegation from South Africa, make sure that you arrange a proper reception. The hotel category you choose is particularly important: the highest hierarchical rank requires a corresponding hotel category. Anything else would be considered disrespectful.

For a South African business partner, an invitation to your home – with the whole family – can also be a decisive factor. Present a varied selection of elaborately prepared dishes. Here, too, it is a matter of expressing your high esteem.

Katrin Koll Prakoonwit

+49 (0)711 722 468 44
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