To succeed in your expansion into South Africa, employers and employees must have a strong understanding of the South African work culture. A highly developed and sophisticated business environment has earned South Africa a reputation as the ‘Gateway to Africa’ for international companies planning an expansion into the continent and operating in the country itself.

Mining is the core of South Africa’s economy, which is rich in mineral resources, most notably provided by the De Beers diamond mines. There are also reserves of gold, iron ore, manganese, chromium, copper, uranium, silver and titanium. Strong manufacturing sectors feature food processing, textiles, metals and chemicals, plastics and resins. Modern, world-class business and financial services come with structures that still tend to be hierarchical and bureaucratic. Incoming companies – especially those bringing staff into South Africa – must adjust to a nation with diverse and individual sub-cultures.

As a global Professional Employment Organisation (PEO), we aim to be familiar and updated with the business culture in the country we work with and in. By sharing our knowledge about the South African work culture, we want to support your Global Expansion plans.

The Basics of the South African Work Culture

Now is the time to get down to business. So here are a few tips on how to clear those cultural hurdles and business etiquette issues.

Language:  English is the most commonly spoken language in the business environment.

Punctuality:  Attitudes differ among ethnic groups. White and South Asians tend to value punctuality the most.

Business Meetings and Negotiations: Communication with South Africans, especially of Afrikaans heritage, tend to be direct and to the point. Agendas will be planned for a structured meeting. Listen attentively, show respect and do not interrupt. Anticipate a slow negotiation pace as building trust is essential towards mutual understanding, although generally, the other team will not be looking to make friends. Decisions will come down from the top in a traditionally hierarchical business setup. Away from the meeting room, face-to-face meetings are still preferred via video-conferencing rather than relying on emails.

Greetings:  Handshake, smile, make eye contact, and take time to exchange friendly, introductory chats. Men should wait for a female member of the other team to offer her hand first. Initially, address opposite numbers by title and surname.

Gift Giving:  Not expected, although personalized gifts are acceptable, such as pens, diaries, and desk accessories with the company name.

Business Cards:  Exchanged without ceremony at introductions.

Dress Code:  Varies between sectors, with a business suit and tie for men, and suits or dresses for women, while the IT sector can be more relaxed with casual-smart the norm.

Out of Hours: A host of cultures adds up to a vast choice of cuisine, and hosts will be keen to guide guests through the menus for lunch and dinner.

Avoid:  Discussing the country’s politics or past.


For more information, download our free guide or get in touch with our consultants here