Term Paper, 2001
2 History and the influence on South African society
3 Business environment
3.1 Models defining cultures and their applications for South Africa
3.2 Working environment
4 Communication, Negotiations, Organizations and Leadership
4.1 Communication styles
4.2 Negotiation practices
4.4 Leadership, management and decision making
5 Business etiquette and customs
5.1 Business etiquette
5.3 Some specialties
I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.
The rainbow nation was a term coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu from South Africa. It describes this diverse nation with people of all colors, from all backgrounds, rich and poor, all religions and many different languages. Politicians now use the term widely. But it also symbolizes the objective of South Africa, which being one nation but having all cultures under on sky living in peace together.
South Africa is characterized by a turbulent and violent past and is nowadays a very vibrant and moving society with one the most modern constitutions in the world. The people of South Africa made the miracle of peaceful change possible in 1990 and South Africa is nowadays seen as one of the driving forces in South Africa - a role model for racial harmony.
The aim of this paper is to give a guideline for doing business in South Africa. The paper focuses on existing models for comparing cultures and South Africa’s business environment with a special focus on the influence of Apartheid. It also stresses communication, negotiation and leadership in the diverse society of South Africa. To complete the picture social customs and business etiquette is outlined and some specialties for the country are specified.
I found it necessary to give a short introduction on the culture and history of South Africa to reach an understanding about the complexity of society and to comprehend the problems South Africa is dealing with today. Because this paper is focusing on Soft Factors - hard factors like country facts and economical situation are not stressed thoroughly.
South Africa, as a topic for the course Intercultural Competence, is a very interesting country, because it is difficult to generalize the South African - due to the many cultural and ethnical backgrounds. Hence business people coming to South Africa should be hugely aware of this particular fact. The paper will outline the main cultural groups and their behaviors especially concerning business. Due to the complexity of the topic the picture of the country is not complete but functions as a basis. Really understanding all nuances of a culture is in my opinion only possible when interacting with the culture.
As said in the introductions South Africa’s culture is very hard to generalize. It has a history of multiple and conflicting cultures. Due to Apartheid the ethnic groups developed very differently from each other. Cultures do coexist in South Africa and do not blend together.
South Africa, being about 3 and a half time as big as Germany is a very diversified country concerning landscape, climate, flora, fauna and overall the culture and its people. The largest cities are Cape Town on the coast and the big metropolis Johannesburg in the north. South Africa has about 41 million inhabitants from all four ethnical backgrounds - with about 76% blacks, 11% whites, 9% coloreds, 3% Asians and Indians and some others. Blacks consist of many different cultural, ethnical and tribal groups. The main ones are Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho, Tswana, Swasi and Ndebele. Originating from the process of change after Apartheid the country has 11 official languages, but the main business language is English followed by Afrikaans. Later is slowly declining due to the reluctance of the black people to speak the language of their former oppressors. Christianity is the mayor religion in South Africa.2
The key influences on culture in South Africa are history, regional differences and the ethnical diversity. The following part will give a short introduction on the history of South Africa and the role of each cultural group in society.
As a remark, it is no bad sign in Africa to call a black person ‘black’. People stand to their color and talk about it openly (not like the US).3
Apartheid and the influence on society
South Africa experienced a very turbulent and bloody history. Black tribes and San and Khoikoi were the first people who settled in the southern tip of Africa. In 1488 Bartholomew Diaz discovered the Cape of Good Hope. But only in 1652 Jan van Riebeck founded the first settlement at the Cape. By and by settlers from Holland, England, France, Portugal and Germany came to South Africa to start a new and free life. At the beginning of the 19th century Great Britain obtained the ownership of the Cape colony but many settlers did not agree with the crown and the government. Especially people from Dutch origin felt oppressed by the British rule. The settlers already lost the relationship to their mother country and saw themselves as Africans or Afrikaners as they called themselves, a fact that will influence history for the next 200 years. With the great trek many of them moved up to the north and founded cities like Johannesburg, Bloemfoentein and Pretoria. 4
From 1899 to 1902 the Boer (Afrikaans) and the Anglos fought against each other. The Boers lost this war and suffered bitterly under their oppressors. In this time the British developed the concept of concentration camps and tested them successfully on Afrikaans women and children. This generated a hate that is still visible today. In the following years through more moderate political movement the Afrikaans regained political rights and in the end the overall rule over South Africa.
The Afrikaans are closely linked to the African continent and see Africa as their given country from god. They are willing to fight for it whatever may come. The British on the other hand were more linked to their mother country. 5
In the 1920s the ANC (African National Congress) was founded and blacks demanded more rights for themselves, but they were still treated as citizens of third class. After World War II the Nationalist Party of D.F. Malan won the elections and established the system of Apartheid, meaning a system of race segregation in every aspect. During that time the ANC became more active and the lawyer Nelson Mandela turned out to be one of the most important leaders of the ANC. In the Rivonia process of 1964 Mandela and the main part of the rulers of the ANC were judged to life sentence on Robben Island. This was a mayor drawback for the ANC but the movement did not stop.
The white nationalist party tried to establish even more the system of race segregation and stepped out of the Commonwealth in 1961 and achieved Republic status. 6
Slowly the world started to recognize the problem in South Africa. Finally in the 1980s after many bloody fights between blacks and whites, the UNO acted with punishment for South Africa. The sanctions damaged the economy severely and many countries condemned South Africa leaving the country in a state of emergency. In the late 1980s negotiations with the government and Mandela took place, and in 1990 Mandela was released out of prison. Out of the process of reconciliation a new democracy was founded in 1994 with Nelson Mandela as the first black and freely elected president of the new South Africa.7
This turbulent history does still influence society today and one should be aware of it when doing business in South Africa. South Africa is a very pride nation. Even though they are deeply divided by their history and race, all see themselves as Africans regardless of their color.
The individual and society
One should also be aware that there do exist regional differences. On the one hand there is the industrialized city of Johannesburg, which has a modern and open attitude. Criminality is obvious in every corner, but music and art are booming everywhere. Than there is the very rural and conservative Free State, which is governed by blacks but many white Afrikaans farmers do live here and reject the black government. KwaZulu-Natal is located in the east with Durban as a mayor city and a large Indian community. Indians are in conflict between traditions and western culture in South Africa. Zulus mainly live in the KwaZulu-Natal area and are one of the former chief tribes in Southern Africa. They resent the mainly Xhosa dominated government and show their reluctance. Cape Town was always described by more liberal climate especially towards coloreds, and it’s the only place in South Africa, which is governed by whites, and has a large colored community.8
Family does play an important role especially in black communities. But apartheid separated families. Women had to work as maids in white areas but their children had to remain at home in black townships usually far away from the white areas. Or men working in goldmines had to leave their family at home in rural areas because the white government tried to hinder the movement of blacks to the cities. Even nowadays the consequences can be seen.9 The family I lived with had a maid working fulltime and sharing a small apartment with her husband. Her children and family lived about 600 km away, and she only saw them once a year for three weeks.
Whites see the family more from a nuclear point of view and are more characterized by individualist behavior. Blacks on the other hand have very strong family ties. They teach their children to respect older people and to obey to their parents. Families provide much support to children especially with parents working far away from home.10
But there is one thing that interlinks all South Africans and plays a significant part in society. These are sports like Rugby, Cricket and soccer. Either cultural group can get very excited of any success reached by a South African.11
Further aspects of society and the individual and the impact on business will be outlined in the following chapters.
‘Culture gives people a sense of who they are, of belonging, of how they should behave, and of what they should be doing.’
Harris and Morran12
Charles Mitchell describes South Africa as a mix of first world and third world. First world technology and economic structures dominate cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town but especially in black rural communities people live below the subsistence level. Even though Apartheid was abolished the indifference between whites and blacks is still visible. One should be aware of this fact when doing business with South Africans.13
Following from this, many businesspeople in South Africa are still from either Afrikaans or English background. Hence they are familiar with western style customs and even share them. But still they may differ and one should take it into consideration. Due to the anti-discrimination policy of the government more and more other ethnic groups find their way into business and economic life.
Martin Ott points out that it is important to have local knowledge, ethnical understandings and social-cultural factors to be successful in a foreign country. But one must also recognize the understanding horizon, argumentation styles and not articulated target expectations (hidden agenda) of the other cultural group. He also states that the degree of difficulty to communicate with black Africans is much higher compared to for example the communication between US Americans and French. He says that western people have even lesser problems communicating with Asians than with people from black Africa.14
Especially less educated people (almost absolutely from black background) think in totally different categories than western people do. Hence they have another understanding of society and life. As an example: there exists advertisement in South Africa saying: ‘Having sex with children does not cure AIDS.’ The meaning behind it: Magicians tell their tribal people that if they sleep with children, meaning raping them can cure AIDS.
Even though Asian countries might differ strongly in their values and norms from western countries both still have one in common - a feeling for rationality, civilization, logic and certain principles of law and order. Black tribes on the other hand are often guided by magic and do think in totally different categories. South Africa is far away from being guided by this thinking like other SubSaharan African States, but it influences society.15
The next part will give a short introductory to different models. Many authors have dealt with intercultural relationships and different approaches do exist.
Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck and cultural orientation
The model claims that members of one cultural group exhibit a constant orientation towards the world and other people. Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck show six different orientations, which concern the nature of people (good, evil, a mixture), the relationship to nature (dominant, in harmony, subjugation), relationship to other people (hierarchical, collectivist, individualist), modality of human activity (doing, being, containing), temporal focus of human activity (future, present, past) and the conception of space (private, public, mixed). But the model only distinct cultures in general and does not accurately predict the values of sub-cultural minorities, the values practiced in different industries and organizations and values practiced in exceptional circumstances.16
During my internship I worked at Siemens in Johannesburg. Even though the company is located in South Africa, German values and cultural norms dominate the company and its way of doing business. German managers do adapt to the local environment and respect differences but also work with their values and norms.
South Africa characterizes itself as a rainbow nation - a nation very diversified. Hence values that might be true for white Africans do not apply for Zulus or Indians.
Hall and the context of cultures
The model of Hall puts cultures into a context - low or high. High context cultures depend highly on their environment. People value long lasting relationships and communication is defined by a shared code. Hence people communicate very efficiently, fast and economical. Authority is highly valued and subordinates show a great loyalty to their superior. Agreements in business and personal life are rather spoken than written down.17
Low context cultures value an explicit way of communication and relations are rather short term. Logic is respected highly and communication depends less on nonverbal codes. Agreements are written down and are normally legally binding. There is no large distinction between insiders and outsiders hence newcomers find it easily to adjust. Cultural patterns are likely to change faster. But Hall points out that no country is clearly high or low in context and mixtures do exist.
Anglo countries like the US or South Africa tend to be low in context. Especially the white community is characterized by such a low context. But Blacks are characterized by a high context culture. Black ethnical groups do value relationships and communicate with a shared code like hand signs or certain gestures.
Hofstede18 and the four dimensions of culture
Hofstede's model shows how national culture influences the workplace. He compared cultures along four dimensions: power distance, uncertainty avoidance, and individualism versus collectivism and masculinity versus femininity.19
In his model South Africa is characterized by a large power distance and a weak uncertainty avoidance but is still closely related to the US and Australia. The society is also characterized by an individual approach and a high tendency towards masculinity.20
Compared to the US South Africa shows a much higher tolerance for unequal power distribution. This has a mayor impact on business behavior, management and leadership styles. Business is usually very conservative and hierarchy plays an important role. And even though South Africans favor the individual approach they are more of a collectivist nature than US Americans. Black people even tend to a strong collectivism and community thinking. South Africa is also a largely male dominated society which I will outline a bit more in the next section.21
But Hofstede’s model shows weaknesses. It assumes cultural homogeneity, which is not true for many nations like the USA, Switzerland or even South Africa. Hofstede only analyzed one specific industry and one single multinational company IBM. But the strengths of the model are overwhelming, because it goes deep into detail about cultural values and norms. The four dimensions Hofstede points out are highly relevant and very good for comparing cultures.22
After the end of Apartheid there was also a shift in the economy towards more privatization. Due to the economic sanctions against South Africa the country developed a strategy to accumulate assets and to control the economy. But nowadays the country has to develop a new strategy to distribute wealth in the best way and to empower blacks and support the integration process. This process is not easy and will still take years. If South Africa can use the strength of each ethnic group, they will most likely succeed.23
The South African workplace is in many ways comparable to European business styles. But workers try to outbalance work and family life and do not live to work. As mentioned before especially in black communities family plays an important role and has an effect on business.
Rissik in her book Culture Shock South Africa states that in general men from all ethnical groups have a strong tendency to show chauvinist behavior. Even though they are very polite towards women and treat them with great courtesy, they have a strong opinion about the role of women. They may refer to businesswomen as ‘girl’ or ‘my dear girl’.24 It is probably very unusual that foreign businesswomen will be treated this way but women coming to South Africa should be aware.
Even though many black women have been involved in politics during times of Apartheid the dominance of males can be seen in any field, may it be business, politics or private life. This is also based on history and traditions, but it is changing.25
Women in Business
Dee Rissik asserts that women in South Africa are in any group less equal than their male counterparts. She characterizes South Africa as a country ruled by male chauvinism, which shows in many aspects of life but especially in business and sports. But women do fight for their rights and received an equal standard by law. But especially tribal law does still disadvantage women, and South Africans are able to choose under which law they would like to be treated.26
Rissik criticizes that South Africa fails to realize the importance of women in the economic sector. Many men still want their women to stay at home and take care of children and household. The situation of women is better in companies with many white-collar workers or in senior positions. The consequence of the mistreatment of women is that many start running their own business e.g. black women doing sewing work. In a very hard position are domestic workers - long working hours, unfair dismissal, little annual leave and work far away from home.
There do exist differences in the cultural and ethnical groups but in general women are treated less equal. Whites like Afrikaans and English favor the nuclear family with women staying at home. Tribal law and customs dominate black women. Indian women have to deal with the caste system and even though they live outside India they still practice traditional customs and rules e.g. the mother chooses the wife for her son.
Employment equity act
At this stage it is also important to notice that the government put in action an Employment Equity Act after the end of Apartheid. This means that all people from all cultural and ethnical backgrounds have to be treated equal in business life. Due to this policy, companies are forced to employ more and more Blacks, Coloreds, Indians, women and disabled people (measured on the percentage they make in the nation). Many whites fear losing their job or inequality compared to blacks. Companies not applying this into their personnel development strategy are punished with high fees or sanctions.27 It is highly cost intensive for companies in South Africa to do this, because as a case in point highly skilled labor especially from black backgrounds are scarce.
Meetings in South Africa should be well prepared and some way ahead. Punctuality is very important for business meetings. Be aware that South Africans are used to have a tea break at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. This is an important part of any meeting and one should take the time to chitchat and strengthen relationships.
During meetings South Africans should not be rushed and the business people should outline as much information as possible about their company, values and qualifications. Be aware of holiday times, which are mainly over Christmas. Nothing goes between middle December and middle January.
As mentioned before meetings have a more conservative nature. When dealing with black South Africans this can differ, meaning that agendas might be more flexible and time is not overstressed. People do not like to work overtime because family plays an important role. So meetings late in the evening are a no-no.
Because South Africa is a more collectivist society (see Hofstede) South Africans put great emphasis on business relationships. Meetings are built on trust and good relationships. South Africans do favor individual success but it is more important to have a comfortable business environment.
Connections and relationships
Especially white South Africa is characterized by business elites. These businessmen share similar backgrounds and visited one of the three top schools in South Africa. These bonds are very important for business and the tendency to be in a business club derives from the most famous one in
South Africa - the Afrikaans broederbond. This was a secret association dealing with the political matters in the country.
Blacks (if they could afford it) on the other hand usually had to study abroad to gain a good education and hence have a sound knowledge on other countries and even do speak other languages. Many members of the ANC have a good knowledge of Russian or German.29
Even though the system is characterized by elite, this is breaking up. Blacks and Indians get more and more into the business sector and are changing the look of business. Also many international companies are investing in South Africa and leave their marks.
For black business people “relationships are money”. People focus on relationships in the first part and then on business and they treat others as individuals. This can be very well symbolized by the Zulu greeting “Sakubona” which literally means “I see you” (as an individual important to me).30
It is not common to use middlemen in South Africa to make connections. It is more advisable to contact chambers of commerce, commercial services, trade commissions or embassies.31
Communication styles, negotiation practices and certain types of leadership within a country derive from its culture. The next part gives a short overview of these in South Africa. One should not forget that there exist many different cultures in South Africa and that they all have different believes and values which influence communication, negotiation styles and leadership traits. Hence the picture has a rather general nature.
Precision of communication is important, more important than ever, in our era of hair-trigger balances, when a false or misunderstood word may create as much disaster as a sudden thoughtless act.James Thurber32
Porter and Samovar see communication as “that, which happens whenever someone responds to the behavior or the residue of the behavior of another person”. They also define eight so called ingredients of communication which are the behavioral source, encoding (verbal and nonverbal behaviors are selected to create a message), the message itself, the channel by which the message moves between people, the responder of the message, decoding of the message, the response and finally feedback. Communication is also a dynamic, interactive and irreversible process and takes place in a physical and social context.33
Culture plays an important role when people are communicating with each other. I already outlined some of the models for describing cultures in chapter three. Cultures share same artifacts, concepts and behaviors.
We are only able to generalize certain cultures but exceptions do exist. Samovar and Porter add some important issues to the fact culture: namely that culture is learned, transmissible, dynamic, selective, interrelated and ethno-centric. Culture is the basis for communication and the authors divide communication in three mayor elements - the perceptual process, the verbal process and the nonverbal process.34
Perception is the internal process by which we select, evaluate and organize stimuli from our external environment (which is influenced by culture). Social perception, values, beliefs and attitudes, worldview and social organizations like family and school influence our style of communication.35
Because of South Africa being such a diverse and multicultural nation many forms of communication do occur and the country is defined by a mixture of low and high context culture. Perceptions, values and beliefs differ in each cultural group and hence communication differs.
The verbal process is described by language, the way people talk and patterns of thought.36
The tower of Babel - South Africa has 14 main language groups and about 24 home languages. As outlined before, 11 of them are official and one can imagine how confusing conversation can be. During times of Apartheid Afrikaans was the main language and is now understood by almost everyone. But due to Apartheid many blacks are reluctant to speak it nowadays and English becomes more and more important. But for many South Africans it is only the second language and confusion may occur.37
Also the patterns of thought differ in each language group. White Afrikaans share comparable values and thinking patterns with western nations like Holland, Germany and the US. But blacks may be guided by magic and natural beliefs which reflects in their way of thinking and hence in the way the verbally communicate.38
Although English is understood and spoken by the main part pf the population, the English differs to the Queen’s English. There are words that only exist in South Africa like Biltong (dried and spiced meat), Fanagalo (mixture of Afrikaans, English, and African languages) or Shebeen (township pub).39
Important to know is the fact that many South Africans use Ja for yes. And they also have the expression ‘just now’, which means almost the same like the Spanish mañana e.g. “I will do it just now” meaning “I will do it in the future or tomorrow.”
The nonverbal process consists of the following parts - gestures, facial expressions, eye contact and gaze, posture and movement, touching, dress, objects and artifacts, silence, space, time and paralanguage.
For this paper only some of these parts will be outlined to show mayor characteristics of the South African Society.
Perception of time
Time perceptions differ between the different cultural groups in South Africa. White South Africans usually have a strong tendency towards punctuality and follow a more linear approach. Business people should be on time in South Africa. When it comes to social activities, South Africans do not enforce punctuality but being late is not advisable.40
Blacks take time from a more poly-chronic point of view hence they have flexible schedules, many activities at one time and might not show up to meetings at all.
Business in South Africa usually starts early around 8 a.m. and meetings can be scheduled from 9 a.m. on. Deadlines are not seen very cautious and South Africans have a more relaxed approach. It is no big deal if deadlines are not held.
I already outlined the concept of ‘just now’. Hence even though they prefer punctuality all South Africans have a more relaxed approach towards time and the importance of it.
Gestures and Facial Expression
Gestures are used a lot by the black population, mostly in the term of hand signs. For example if someone wants to ride a black taxi in Johannesburg the person stands at the side of street and with this hands shows the driver where he or she wants to go to. There are also many gestures that originate from times of Apartheid. As said before Zulu for example do look in someone’s eyes when greeting him and say Sakubona - meaning ‘I see you’.
South Africans use hand gestures in meetings to express their involvement in a matter. But it is rude to point at someone with your index finger. The “V” or peace sign means the same like showing the middle finger in Germany. Eye contact is an important part of communication and is important for a relationship like the warm handshake. They also like physical contact as a sign of approval and liking.41
Use of Space
South Africans are mostly described by being very warm and friendly and get down to a personnel conversation very quickly. They also stand much closer together than for example their German counterparts. Also here differences exist between each ethnical group.
There are many different ways of greeting a person but a greeting is always welcome. A greeting should be warm and friendly and pleasantries should be exchanged. Hence a strong working relationship can be established.42 Very important is also the handshake because it differs from the western style.
“The African handshake is a shake with a twist. Use the traditional western-style handshake, then, without letting go of the person's hand, slide your hand around the other person's thumb, then go back to the original western position. After a few tries, you'll get it right. By the way, men and women do not typically shake hands as much as in the West, so unless the South African woman initiates the handshake, men should not reach out their hand. Equally, a woman might not have her hand taken by a South African man when she extends it-don't misinterpret this as discourteous because the South Africans are extremely courteous.“43
South Africans should always be addressed by their surname and titles are common but not as important as for example in Germany. There do exist differences e.g. Indian community but greeting politely is always welcomed.
Also in negotiation styles there do exist differences between the cultural groups. But some general ideas can be expressed.
Success in negotiations is only reached when both partners understand the other and realize what everybody wants to have out of the negotiation. Though bargaining is not a part of South African business culture hence businesspersons should avoid hard tactics and behaviors. This derives from the more collective attitude of South Africans (see Hofstede). A long term and solid relationship is the main target of South African business people.44
It is therefore necessary to avoid pressure tactics and rather focus on small talk and relationship building. As mentioned before the climate of meetings and negotiations should be rather warm and friendly. Respect for people is greatly appreciated.45 Before Jumping into Business, one should Chitchat.46 It is necessary to express sincere interest in family and social matters before getting down to business details with colleagues.
Tasks should be personalized wherever possible and negotiators should focus on personal levels. Fair play is an important fact to gain a win-win relationship on both sides. South Africans appreciate clear and straight responses and presentations. As business law is closely associated with English law contracts are mostly fair and square. But local differences can occur and one has to check them in advance. 47
Because of so many people being fluent in English an interpreter for negotiations is in most cases not necessary. An interpreter also might hinder the personal contact and the building of relationships, which are necessary for any deal.48
Hard bargaining in negotiations is not part of the South African business culture. Avoid acting pushy. South Africans are sensitive to being exploited for short-term gains so don't reinforce this suspicion.49
Indians and Chinese might be tougher in negotiation styles but whites do prefer a concept of harmony. After the trading restrictions imposed on South Africa they are more sensitive in negotiations. Business deals are made slowly. It is always a good way if the business partner recognizes South Africa’s position in Africa and wants to involve his business as well in other African States like Namibia or Botswana.50
Jackson describes South African 51 organizations as highly hierarchical, centralized and rule bound. Management opposes clear rules, strong leadership, controls its employees and gives welldefined lines of authority. Government still has a very strong influence on business and imposes rules as well. Family has influence on the company especially with the rising importance of blacks and their tendency towards collectivism.
There exist job descriptions to support authority and a good structure. Companies favor wellinformed and well-educated employees but like to have control. The community and the responsibility towards society play an important role in organizations.
Managers in South Africa also put a strong emphasis on values like quality, growth and productivity and less on employee satisfaction and flexibility.
‘Ubuntu ungamntu ngabanye abantu’- people are people through other people.(Xhosa proverb)52
There are three approaches to management in South Africa:
1. Euro-centric Approach
Euro-centric management reflects the traits of white business and is characterized as autocratic, hierarchical and authoritarian and individualistic. Information within the organization flows from top-down and the organization. The leader functions as the decision maker and he or she makes all-important decision. Leadership also provides employees with goals and direction and through job descriptions with a certain amount of decision-making power. The employee is controlled by management and receives motivation or punishment based on the ability to fulfill duties in the pursuit of the given goal.53
2. Afro-centric Approach
With more and more black people entering business life this approach to management might become more and more visible in organizations. The individual is seen as part of whole and needs to find its place in society. People need to have a feeling of belonging somewhere and management must be approachable. The business attitude is rather informal with a free flow of information. The afro-centric approach can also be seen with Xhosa proverb Ubuntu meaning that a person is a value in itself. The leader is facilitator and guide for the group (like a tribal chief). Employees get motivated in the group and group pressure on individuals improves the group’s performance.54
3. Synergistic Inspirational Approach
This is the third approach found in South Africa. Based on the principle of the rainbow nation it tries to combine African management practices and values with western techniques. Koopman describes it as a pragmatic humanism approach, which seeks unity in diversity. A leader must create an atmosphere of trust and respect for different values, build common values and support learning.
The company needs to have a strong value base, a powerful vision and a rational management. Literally said this approach tries to take the best of each culture and combines it to strengthen the organization to deal with the changing future.
It is obvious which management style is the most favorable but it depends a lot on leaders and managers of organizations and how fast the change is happening in South Africa. If people realize the importance of diversity and start seeing its advantages, business culture will adapt as well.55
Western management has the idea of people as a resource found in the word human resources management. On the other hand in South Africa people are seen as a value in themselves described by the word Ubuntu. Koopman says that African cultures have a tendency towards communalism where whites more towards individualism.56 Individualism is characterized by self-interest and instrumental relationships where collectivism stresses obligation based relationships and group membership.
A study conducted by Jackson says that managers in South Africa see themselves with a high group orientation. But keeping harmony like in Asian cultures is not always necessary. Jackson calls this not collectivism but rather communalism. They also agree with the Ubuntu style that people should be respected for what they are even though managers like to have the control over others. People should be treated equal and with ethical values and are not only means of the organization. Long-term thinking is favorable but people are not the long-term objective of the organization.57
Business etiquette can matter a lot when doing business in a different country. I already realized in the course intercultural competence and also in the studies abroad that as a foreigner one has a bonus. Mistakes are much easier forgiven. But respect and a certain amount of intercultural knowledge is always a big help and leads to success in the other country.
In my opinion it is most important to keep common sense and see the world with open eyes. Lecturing on the greatness of your own culture is always superfluous. The next chapter outlines some of the mayor issues concerning business etiquette and customs in South Africa.
Note the European Traditions58
South Africans hold some traditions from Europe. A simple example is the tea break at 10 am and 4 p.m. Always address your South African colleague by last, or family, name. While the culture may feel relaxed and laid-back, South Africans include some strong formal protocols into their culture. For example, men stand up when a woman or a senior enters the room.59
Exchanging business cards is nothing very formal in South Africa like in Asian countries. Business people do have business cards but they do not play an important role in the business etiquette.60 Business gifts Business gifts will be appreciated. Depending on the business relationship they can be more or less personal.
If you're invited to a South African home, it is typically for a meal, which includes family (double-check with your host if unsure). When invited to a home, be sure to bring a small gift (chocolate or flowers are fine). Usually, South Africans rise early so evening entertainment ends before midnight. One is expected to arrive exactly on time. Dining etiquette mirrors European traditions: both hands visible on the table (not on your lap) at all times, and eating is done continental style, with the fork and knife staying in their respective hands.62
South Africans like to invite business partners to a barbeque called Braai. It is advisable to bring some wine or some sweets, which will be highly appreciated. Be also prepared that South Africans especially men do drink a lot.63
Respect the Differences64
This complex society is a landmine for faux pas. Be sure to respect the myriad differences in interpersonal communications and human interaction that can exist between the many African tribes, Afrikaners, British and Indians. It is advisable to be respectful of the fact that significant differences probably do exist.
One should be careful when speaking about politics. South Africans are very sensitive to perceptions of their troubled country. Giving a personal opinion should not sound like a lecture.65 But good topics to talk about are achievements of South Africans especially those in sports, literature, music or medicine e.g. Christian Barnard was the first physician to perform heart transplantation in 1967.66
Dress and appearance
The dress code especially in business is more of a conservative nature. 67 But it always depends with whom one is doing business. Suit and tie for men and a dress, costume or pantsuit for women are recommended for high ranked meetings but are not necessary for everyday workdays. South Africans do not have a high expectation concerning style and mode. Smart and casual wear is often sufficient especially concerning the hot weather during summer times. In winter business people should be aware than it can get quit cool.
After the end of Apartheid South Africa changed a lot of its holidays, which need to be respected by foreigners. One example is reconciliation day, which was formerly the day when Afrikaans won over Zulus.
For Blacks music plays an important role in life and they celebrate certain traditions a western businessperson might not understand. Do not judge them by that but rather respect and listen. For all South Africans, sport is a mayor obsession and a good topic to talk about. Famous sports are Cricket for the English and Indians, Rugby for Afrikaans and Soccer for Blacks.68 One should also be aware that South Africans enjoy having a drink and drinking alcohol like beer, wine and spirits is common at dinner parties and other social events.
Businessmen should also not forget that there are large Jewish and Indian communities in South Africa with traditions and special holidays. Tribal traditions are celebrated by each black ethnical group and differ from each other. One important tradition is the paying of a bride price calledLobola. Many blacks also believe in magic healers and all sorts of mysteries. These traditions should be respected when traveling or doing business in South Africa.
International forms of behavior are always appropriated but nuances of each cultural group can be picked up when doing business or living in South Africa.
At this stage I find it necessary to outline some country specific details business people should be aware of. Due to Apartheid business outside the law does exist and many blacks own a business “off the books”. But due to the privatization and democratization business this will definitely change but should not be underestimated.
Baksheeshes and bribery may occur but are not prevalent. Bribery can happen in places like public offices and police station to circumvent the bureaucratic and slow public system but are not as common as in other African nations.69
Business people coming to South Africa should be aware that there is much criminality especially in cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town. South Africa has the highest rate of rape per capita in the world.70 Hence one should follow some rules and always be aware and use common sense, meaning not showing off of expensive luxuries and wealth, putting valuables into a safe, minimizing travels at night and always drive with locked cars. Visits to remote areas and townships should be done with a guide. Especially businesswomen should be always cautious and never go out alone (especially during night time). Speaking from my own experience it is not a shame to ask for attendance!
As a final remark is to say that most parts of South Africa even though they are influenced by black customs and values follow a very western way. Not all specialties can be outlined due to the regional and cultural differences in South Africa. Nuances of the country are usually learned by seeing it for yourself and experiencing the culture.
“Culture is for a group what personality is for an individual.”(Laurent)71
South Africa definitely has its own personality, which combines African values, Western norms, speckles of Indian cultures and colored influence.
The country had to and is still dealing with its turbulent past of Apartheid. In the 1990s it made the change possible to transform itself to a democratic society, which respects all colors and cultures. Speaking from my own experience it is true that this change is not completed yet and indifference and problems can be seen.
When dealing in business with South Africans one should always respect the past and the cultures and be aware of the rainbow colored nation and all the facets that may occur. As said before business is still dominated by whites and a very conservative business style. The tendency towards hierarchy and a very autocratic leadership style still rules business culture in South Africa. But due to the Employment Equity Act this is changing and other values and beliefs influence more and more communication and negotiation styles and the organizational structure.
I can agree with the fact that even though South African business culture follows an individualistic approach, a warm atmosphere is important and a collectivist tendency can be noticed. The country holds many opportunities for investors willing to accept the multicultural society and take the strength of it to be successful.
From my own point of view I can only say that I enjoyed very much working with South Africans. They were always very polite and showed great courtesy. The people are in general honest and always cautious to treat strangers very forthcoming. Information was shared within the project I worked in, and the people appreciated knowledge and commitment.
The high walls and fences surrounding especially white neighborhoods usually shock people coming to South Africa. But I experienced that if one has an open attitude and leaves prejudices behind, it will be very interesting conversing with all colors and cultures. South Africans are very interested to get to know you and make you feel welcome.
There is still much need for action in the country. But from all my sources I read for this paper, I got the impression that the country is on the best way to a positive future.
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- selbständig, ohne unerlaubte fremde Hilfe von mir angefertigt wurde
- mit keinen anderen als den von mir angegebenen Quellen und Hilfsmitteln erstellt wurde
- Vermerke enthält über die wörtlich oder inhaltlich entnommenen Stellen der benutzten Literaturquellen
1 Hodge, Sheida. 2000. Global Smarts, John Wiley and Sons, Canada, page 15
2 Gustke, Rainer. 1999. Geschäftspartner Südafrika, bfai, Köln, Germany, page 11f
3 Mersham, Gary M. Mots Pluriels, University of Zululand, available: http://www.arts.uwa.edu.au/MotsPluriels/MP1300gm.html
4 Müller, Wolfgang. Naumann, Uwe. 1995. Mandela, Rowohlt, Reinbek, Germany, page 163 f
5 Müller, Wolfgang. Naumann, Uwe. 1995. Mandela, Rowohlt, Reinbek, Germany, page 163 f
6 ibid, page 163 f
7 ibid, page 163 f
8 Mitchell, Charles. 1998. Passport South Africa. World Trade Press, San Rafael, USA, page 23f
9 ibid, page 20f
10 Sepdata. South Africa - The People, available: http://sepdata.virtualave.net/sa1.html. December 2000.
11 Rissik, Dee. 1994. Culture Shock South Africa. Graphic Arts Center, Portland, USA, page 174f
12 Götz, Klaus. 2000. Interkulturelles Lernen/Interkulturelles Training, München, page 16
13 Mitchell, Charles. 1998. Passport South Africa. World Trade Press, San Rafael, USA, page 17f
14 Ott, Martin in Götz, Klaus. 2000. Interkulturelles Lernen/Interkulturelles Training, München, page 237
15 Ott, Martin in Götz, Klaus. 2000. Interkulturelles Lernen/Interkulturelles Training, München, page 237
16 Mead, Richard. 1998. International Management, Blackwell Publishers Ltd., Oxford, UK, page 22f
18 Mead, Richard. 1998. International Management, Blackwell Publishers Ltd., Oxford, UK, page 34 f
19 ibid, page 34
20 ibid, page 34
21 Brief History of South Africa, available: http://oak.cats.ohiou.edu/~kz208595/South%20Africa2.htm
22 Mead, Richard. 1998. International Management, Blackwell Publishers Ltd., Oxford, UK, page 3 4 f
23 International Strategies, available: http://home3.americanexpress.com/smallbusiness//resources/expanding/global/reports/11162090.shtml
24 Rissik, Dee. 1994. Culture Shock South Africa. Graphic Arts Center, Portland, USA, Page 80
25 ibid, Page 75f
26 ibid, Page 75f
27 Gabbert, Markus M. 1999. Employment equity act, RIW 1999, Heft 4, page 279 f
28 Mitchell, Charles. 1998. Passport South Africa. World Trade Press, San Rafael, USA, page 54
29 ibid, page 45 f
30 Hodge, Sheida. 2000. Global Smarts, John Wiley and Sons, Canada, page 46
31 Mitchell, Charles. 1998. Passport South Africa. World Trade Press, San Rafael, USA, page 46
32 Samovar, Larry A.; Porter, Richard, E. 1997. Intercultural Communication, Wadsworth, USA, page 1
33 ibid, page 10f
34 Samovar, Larry A.; Porter, Richard, E. 1997. Intercultural Communication, Wadsworth, USA, page 15
35 Samovar, Larry A.; Porter, Richard, E. 1997. Intercultural Communication, Wadsworth, USA, page15f
36 ibid, page 17 f
37 Rissik, Dee. 1994. Culture Shock South Africa. Graphic Arts Center, Portland, USA, page 98f
38 ibid, page 98f
39 ibid, page 98f
40 Morrison; Conaway; Douress. 1997. Dun&Bradstreet’s guide, Prentice Hall, Inc., USA, page 347
41 Mitchell, Charles. 1998. Passport South Africa. World Trade Press, San Rafael, USA, page 81f
42 Rissik, Dee. 1994. Culture Shock South Africa. Graphic Arts Center, Portland, USA, page 96
43 available at: http://www.globalassignment.com/10-22-99/southafrica.htm
44 Brief History of South Africa, available: http://oak.cats.ohiou.edu/~kz208595/South%20Africa2.htm
45 Mitchell, Charles. 1998. Passport South Africa. World Trade Press, San Rafael, USA, page 58 f
46 available: www.learnaboutcultures.com/countries/south_Africa.htm
47 Mitchell, Charles. 1998. Passport South Africa. World Trade Press, San Rafael, USA, page 59 f
48 ibid, page 59 f
49 available: www.learnaboutcultures.com/countries/south_Africa.htm
50 Morrison; Conaway; Douress. 1997. Dun&Bradstreet’s guide, Prentice Hall, Inc., USA, page 349
51 Jackson, Terence. 1999. Managing Change in South Af rica, International Journal of HRM, page 318 f
52 Jackson, Terence. 1999. Managing Change in South Africa, International Journal of HRM, page 318 f
53 Brief History of South Africa, available: http://oak.cats.ohiou.edu/~kz208595/South%20Africa2.htm
55 Brief History of South Africa, available: http://oak.cats.ohiou.edu/~kz208595/South%20Africa2.htm
56 Jackson, Terence. 1999. Managing Change in South Africa, International Journal of HRM, page 307
57 ibid, page 308f
58 available: www.learnaboutcultures.com/countries/south_Africa.htm
59 available: www.learnaboutcultures.com/countries/south_Africa.htm
60 Morrison; Conaway; Douress. 1997. Dun&Bradstreet’s guide, Prentice Hall, Inc., USA, page 349
61 available: www.learnaboutcultures.com/countries/south_Africa.htm
63 Morrison; Conaway; Douress. 1997. Dun&Bradstreet’s guide, Prentice Hall, Inc., USA, page 249
64 available: www.learnaboutcultures.com/countries/south_Africa.htm
66 Mitchell, Charles. 1998. Passport South Africa. World Trade Press, San Rafael, USA, page 22
67 Netpilgrim. 2000. South Africa. Available: http://www.netpilgrim.com/articles/200076(NetArticle328.htm
68 Rissik, Dee. 1994. Culture Shock South Africa. Graphic Arts Center, Portland, USA, page 170 f
69 Mitchell, Charles. 1998. Passport South Africa. World Trade Press, San Rafael, USA, page 62 f
70 ibid, page 62 f
71 Götz, Klaus. 2000. Interkulturelles Lernen/Interkulturelles Training, München, Page 12
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