Travel & Expat Lifestyle Magazine

Learning the Social and Business Customs of South Africa



South Africa is one of the most diverse nations on earth, racially, religiously and culturally. For instance, it has 11 official languages. It ethnic makeup is native black Africans, Europeans, Indians, Indo-Malays, Chinese and many more. It is difficult to write a uniform social code that would apply to every group in South Africa.

For all South Africans, family is very important. English-speaking white people consider their nuclear family of utmost importance, but all other Afrikaans will usually consider their extended family as important as their nuclear. Those who live in tribes place emphasis on their nuclear family and extended family. Those who live in urban areas will often network to those who remain in rural areas and send them money.


There is a huge difference between the urban and rural cultures in South Africa. Many Afrikaans living in the country are Calvinist descendents, who are known to not have wide views on the world. Urban dwellers have more cosmopolitan, fast-paced ways of life. People living in Johannesburg are known to be materialistic and do not relate as much to those in the country. People in Cape Town are very proud of it, and will also look down on the country. There are also many rural black communities that are rooted in and proud of their traditions. Many black South Africans move to the cities and keep some of their native traditions.

In terms of greeting one another, it differs depending on a person’s ethnic background. In general, people will notice that you are a foreigner, in which they will shake hands and retain eye contact.

People will give gifts for birthdays and Christmas. There are huge parties when South Africans celebrate their 21st and 40th birthdays, and friends will often split the bill. If you are invited to a South African home, it is nice to bring flowers, chocolate or good domestic wine. Also call ahead of time and see if the host would like you to prepare some food to bring. After dining, offer to help clean up.


South Africans do not need to form personal relations with others to do business with them. However, it does help to establish relations and a network with the right people. Communication styles can be tricky because they differ according to all of the different cultures. However, most people prefer communication face-to-face instead of by letter or email.

When you are scheduling meetings, you should make the appointment as far in advance as possible. Try to avoid scheduling meetings around Christmas, New Years and Easter, because people usually go on vacation. After you conclude a meeting, send a letter about what was decided, and what the next steps will be. Business clothes are starting to become informal in South Africa, but you should dress conservatively when you first meet someone.


One thought on “Learning the Social and Business Customs of South Africa

  1. Hi Tanya

    I would like to know why is it that when anything is written about SA that Colored people or the Colored Race is always omitted? I must say I never heard of the “Indo malay” are these supposedly “Cape Colored”? Why would we be refered to as many more?

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