In South Africa everyone is expected to work hard, but the people there don’t follow the same lifestyle like in New York or London. You can be punctual for the meetings, but it is not an extremely important factor. They still have their very own “Africa time”, which means everything happens extremely slowly. Therefore a meeting will almost never start according to the schedule, and the other party may not even show up at all.
You might find it difficult to instill the sense of urgency in South Africa; as South-Africans concentrate more in doing the job in a professional way rather than meeting the deadlines. The expression “I will do it now” means that the task is high-priority, on the other hand “I will do it just now”, normally means that the task is low-priority. So make your own conclusions from it.
If you want to schedule a meeting with a South-African partner, do not do it between mid-December and mid-January, because this is a high time for South Africans to take their holidays. They usually prefer to do business more face-to-face rather than by email, phone or video conference.
Planning a meeting
You should arrange and set your appointments via email or telephone as many times as possible, and before your arrival, you should also reconfirm it. Upon arrival you should acquire a local contact number and provide it to them, because when it comes to arrangements, they can be a little uncertain about it – so it is better to keep constant contact with your business partners. Present them with a clear idea and the reason for the meeting, as well as information about your company. Everyone is expected to be punctual for the meeting, but usually you might be kept waiting. Sometimes a meeting can be called off in the last minute. But in any case, you should always be patient if you want to make business with the South-Africans. If a meeting is cancelled, just keep calm, accept it, and try to reschedule it.
During a meeting
So when you are there, the meetings will normally start with some refreshments and small talk. You will first get to know each other; and they will never get right down to business. You should also demonstrate how much you understand their culture and politics and tailor your speech appropriately. You should decide on a relaxed, friendly approach, but without beating around the bush, keep straight to the point.
Following a meeting
After the meeting is over, expect to continue it over lunch, or you can even be invited to join them for dinner or a weekend. South Africans are generally a little bit uncertain about following up on meetings and executing the agreed tasks. So take the initiative, and try to contact everybody who was present at the meeting with a list of actions to be implemented.
Don’t forget to dress appropriately for the meeting. Let’s say, if you are a male, wear a black conservative business suit and if you are a female, do the same or choose a modest dress.
And one more thing to take with you when doing business in South Africa, always bring business cards with you, which are normally exchanged at the beginning of a meeting. In them, make sure to include your name, job title, company’s contacts and you own phone number and e-mail address.
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