South Africa represents one of the world’s most multicultural nations, earning it the nickname “The Rainbow Nation.” Those interested in doing business in South Africa must understand the way these cultures come together and affect business dealings. While certain rules seem to apply well in most South African business situations, you must also learn about the individual culture of the people with whom you plan to do business and try to adhere to those etiquette rules.
Build Trust During Meetings
South African business culture relies heavily on personal trust between parties. Whenever possible, schedule a face-to-face meeting to discuss business rather than communicating via email, letter or telephone. Maintain eye contact when you shake hands at your meeting to help build trust. If the individual or company you meet with has no knowledge of you or your business prior to your initial meeting, consider having a trusted third party send a letter of recommendation.
Make and Keep Appointments
Make appointments far in advance, at least a month prior to the meeting. The day before your appointment, call to confirm. Be on time for your appointment, whether it occurs in an office or at a restaurant over a meal.
If you are male, choose a dark, conservative business suit for business meetings. Women should wear dark business suits or conservative, modest dresses. South Africans may dress slightly more casual than this, but you should dress up when heading to an initial meeting.
Negotiations move slowly in South Africa but do not hinge strongly on bartering for price. Set your price close to what you expect to get for your services. Approach the negotiations process with the attitude of working toward a mutually beneficial agreement. Add a deadline to your contract, but view it as flexible.
Give Gifts to Hostesses
Even in business culture, you may receive an invitation to a South African home. If you do, you should bring a small gift for the hostess. A bottle of South African wine, flowers or chocolates works well as a hostess gift.
Show Respect for Elders
While South Africa has many different cultures within its country, most of these cultures have a strong sense of value for their elders. To avoid coming across as offensive, always behave respectfully around older individuals, even if they play a less important role in the business meeting than someone else.