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Cultural Differences in South Africa

When it comes to the question of doing international business, it becomes very important to understand the country’s cultural diversities as this will assist one to incorporate cultural sensitivity which creates a good avenue for communication to prosper and in turn do business according to Susan, (2009). Different countries have different cultural orientations which certainly have a strong influence on communication at the workplace. South Africa cannot be termed as having any particular culture as the country is made of ethnically diverse and vast cultures. Archbishop Desmond Tutu likes to refer to South Africa as a “rainbow nation”, to give the impression of the difference in colors, all backgrounds, both rich and poor, and of different religions and languages. Drawing from the well-known era of Apartheid segregation, the most notable cultures among South Africans are inclined towards the races (Blacks, Whites, Colored and Asians). Doing business in South Africa therefore would require an understanding of how these cultural inclinations come into play when the native people engage in business (Susan, 2009).

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Contrary to what the concept of calling an African man ‘black’ would auger to certain people, black South Africans pride themselves in being referred to as black and are not afraid to speak of their color in the open. Gestures are commonly used in South Africa especially by the blacks inform of hand signs. A common example is when signaling a taxi driver or even indicating to someone the direction. Eye contact and physical contact play a very important role in communication. A common hand sign in South Africa is the raised right-hand fist which is a worldwide known symbol for black power. Long periods of silence in between conversations are considered to be an indication of an anomaly due to their talkative nature and belief in the personalization of business. Topics such as sports serve well to diffuse the tension as South Africans love soccer, rugby and cricket.

The process of resolving conflicts in South Africa is dominated by facing it head-on and getting the wrongdoers to correct the mistake after they admit it. This is highly influenced by the methods adopted in resolving the atrocities caused by the oppression of the Apartheid regime where those who had wronged were made to confess and ask for forgiveness in the process of healing and reconciliation. Muhs (2001) pointed out that the perception in the concept of time is interpreted differently in South Africa than in western countries. For example, when someone says “I will do it now-now”, that means they will work on it immediately. While saying “I will do it just now” implies they will do it in the future. The perception towards time also varies between blacks and whites in South Africa, with the whites being strict on punctuality in a business meeting but not so strict when it comes to social functions. Blacks, however, can even have simultaneous meetings and do not find it a big deal to miss a meeting. When seeking to relay a point it is advisable to first focus on building a good relationship as South Africans do not value the use of hard tactics in bargaining but prefer trust-building. A good way of building a good rapport before the business would be initiating a family talk since South Africans especially blacks respect family ties. Individual success is highly praised in South Africa as opposed to the success of the whole organization. A vice that just won’t go away is the establishment of a culture of favoritism in hiring and performing work appraisals. South Africans believe in harmonious existence with each other even in business competition.

With the establishment of hierarchical orders in business, bureaucracy takes charge in the delegation as a senior only believes in assigning the responsibilities to the next in command. With the South African’s preferring to do business in a more informal setting where the success of striking a deal s based on trust, it is believed that a decision is arrived at as a collective agreement and if one is allocated a chance to make decisions it is seen as a privilege. The opening hours for offices and stores are from 8 am to 5 pm Monday to Friday.

Due to their known nature to value family ties and social life even in business, South Africans have no problem disclosing any information or feeling in a bid to foster a relaxed rapport based on trust. Discussing family is seen as a good way to create a favorable environment for business by first getting to know each other.

Trompenaars, (1997) stated that South Africa endorses some formal protocols that are engulfed in their cultures for instance the fact the men are supposed to rise whenever a woman enters the room and when entering doorways, men are supposed to precede women. When addressing a South African, it is always advisable to refer to them by their surnames. An important part of South Africans life is formed by music. They believe in singing to celebrate special events and important people in the society as well as achievements e.g. in sports. Despite the fact that the men in South Africa have respect for their women, they are known to be chauvinists in the sense that they tend to believe that the women’s role is in the house chores as opposed to doing business. On the issue of dress code, the South African’s believe a casual appearance is enough when doing business. They do not have high regard for fashion (Muhs, 2001).

Finally, doing business in South Africa requires an understanding of the fact that it is a nation of various cultural diversities which are dominated by the black culture. However, the trend of embracing western values is quickly taking over. It is also important to respect the South African past and the diverse culture for prosperity in doing business in South Africa.

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Brown, S. (2009). Understanding Cultural Differences in Business: How Differences in Culture Affect Business Communication and Conduct, 1-11

Muhs, K. (2001). Cultural differences between South Africa and Germany. Munich: GRIN Publishing.

Trompenaars, F. (1997). Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Cultural Diversity in Business. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

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