Main Religions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Indigenous religions.
South Africa is the southernmost country on the African Continent. It is a multi-ethnic, constitutional democracy which comprises a parliamentary republic and nine provinces. South Africa is governed from three official capitals, Pretoria, Bloemfontein and Cape Town. Despite not being a capital city, Johannesburg, situated in the inland province of Gauteng, is the country’s largest city and has a population of almost 4.5 million people. South Africa has a turbulent history, but since 1994, has been governed by the African National Congress (ANC) which scored its 5th election victory in 2014, and as a result, the lives of many citizens have improved significantly. However, despite having one of the largest economies in the African continent, the country continues to experience poverty, crime and unemployment.
South Africa is one of the most geographically varied countries on the continent, with a coastline that stretches 1,600 miles, vast desert plains and mountainous terrain. It is the world’s leader in mining and minerals and has nearly 90% of the platinum metals and 41% of the gold on earth. South Africa is also home to four of the five fastest land animals in the world – the cheetah, wildebeest, lion and Thomson’s gazelle and the country’s wildlife attracts millions of tourists each year.
South Africa is often referred to as the ‘Rainbow Nation’ – a term coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu – because of its cultural and racial diversity. Over 70% of South Africans identify themselves as black African, descended from tribal cultures from all over the African continent. The rest of the population is made up of Afrikaners (descended from Dutch settlers) and those of Indian and Asian heritage. The country’s colonial past means that Afrikaans and English is widely spoken compared with the rest of the continent. South Africa has a rich cultural legacy, with tribal traditions mixing with the more Westernised population. This melting pot of cultures has created a fascinating range of languages, music, cuisine, religion and art in one country.
Food and Drink
South Africa’s many nationalities and cultures are reflected in its cuisine, which has African, Asian and European influences. The South African diet tends to be meat-based but a wide variety of seafood dishes are available in coastal areas. Regional specialities include ‘bobotie’ (minced meat and baked eggs), potjiekos (slow cooked meat and vegetable stew) and ‘smoorvis’ (a type of fish kedgeree). Side dishes include ‘pap’ a traditional porridge and ‘chakalaka’ which is made with sliced green peppers and chilli. Street food is immensely popular and affordable all over South Africa, including bunny chow – a hollowed out loaf of bread filled with curry – to be found mainly in the city of Durban, which has a large Indian population. At weekends, South Africans like to relax by grilling chops, sosaties (spicy kebabs) and boerewors (spicy sausage) over a braaii (Afrikaans for barbeque).
South Africans are passionate beer drinkers and the sorghum-based Maheu is by far the most popular brand. In addition, the Western Cape vineyards produce some excellent wines, including Pinotage, a deep fruity blend of the pinot noir and hermitage grapes which is unique to South Africa.
With its diverse geography, wildlife and temperate climate, outdoor pursuits make up the most popular activities in South Africa. The country is home to a number of wildlife reserves, where the ‘Big Five’ (Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard and Rhino) can be observed on safari, or there is Great White shark cage-diving and bungee-jumping from the country’s numerous gorges for the more adventurous.
South Africans are extremely passionate about sport, particularly rugby, and the Springbok national team have near God-like status across the country. Cricket is also a favourite sport and a trip to a day-night game is a popular activity with South Africans of all ages. For more sedate activities, the country has a 1600-mile stretch of dramatic coastline for hiking, water sports and sunbathing.
In the larger cities a thriving art and theatre scene can be found, where traditional African meets modern, as well as rich mix of cuisines and raucous all-night bars and shebeens (traditional South African drinking houses). South Africans have no shortage of events with traditional and modern music and arts festivals held throughout the year. For more information consult the South African Tourist Board.
South Africa has 11 official languages with geographical variations in each. The most widely spoken languages are Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans (a derivative of Dutch) and English. The African National Congress (ANC) promote English as the main language of government, although indigenous languages are still widely used in commerce and inter-province relations. Different languages are attributed to ancestral tribal areas, for instance Zulu is mainly spoken by the Bantu people, who make up the largest ethnic group in South Africa.
Accents and dialects
With so many languages being spoken in one country, there are variations in the accent and dialects of each. There is also social and geographical variation in South African English, which is spoken by many in urban areas and has been adapted to suit each community. How English is spoken is considered an indicator of class and social status in South Africa, for instance, middle to upper classes speak with a cultivated English based on Received Pronunciation whereas in more impoverished areas there exists a ‘post-creole’ English dialect, which is often mixed with other languages.
The education system in South Africa has been transformed since the abolition of apartheid, but this transformation has been slow – the South African primary and secondary education system is regarded as being of low standard and was listed in bottom place globally for maths and science by the World Economic Forum (2015). There remains a significant gap in education standards between rich and poor communities. Higher Education in South Africa, on the other hand, has seen heavy investment and now competes on the world stage.
South Africa has a three-tier education system of primary, secondary and further or higher education. The primary and secondary school sector is divided into; non fee- paying public schools, fee-paying public schools and private schools. Attendance at school compulsory for all children age 7-15. Lessons are taught in the official language of the province and learning English is mandatory.
The academic school year runs in four terms, from mid-January to early December. Students have ten days holiday at Easter, ten days in the spring term (September), 21 days in winter (May-June) and 40 days for Summer/Christmas (December-January). The university academic year is divided into two semesters, from February to June and July to November.
The school day starts at 8am and finishes at 1pm for primary school children and at 3pm for secondary school pupils.
The South African government has made huge investment into developing their tertiary education sector in recent years, making universities more accessible to poorer students and significantly improving quality. South Africa has 26 publicly-funded universities, seven of which appear in the QS World University Rankings (the highest being the University of Cape Town, at 141st place). Universities are managed and funded by the Department of Higher Education and Training and are divided into three categories:
Traditional Universities: academic in nature
Technology Universities: vocational courses
Comprehensive universities: offering both types of course
Admission into university for South Africans is by completion of secondary school (matriculation) up to the age of 18. Non-South Africans can complete an assessment form on the Universities South Africa (formerly HESA) website (http://www.universitiessa.ac.za/) to see if their qualifications are suitable.
South African universities are publicly-funded, but students are charged annual tuition fees. Fees vary widely between institutions and courses and international students are charged more, roughly between R75000 (£3556) for undergraduate and Honours degrees, and R47500 (£2251) for Master’s degrees. The South African government has a National Student Financial Aid scheme which distributes student loans and bursaries, but non-South Africans are very rarely eligible. However, some of the country’s major banks offer international students loans to cover fees and living expenses at competitive rates. Some South African universities also offer their own bursary schemes and scholarships to international students so it is worth contacting the university to find out before applying.
There are a wide range of courses available at South African universities, with particular emphasis on medicine, engineering and research. A full-time undergraduate Bachelor’s degree takes three years to complete. After three years students can choose to graduate with a degree certificate or take a further year-long ‘Honours’ course to gain a Bachelor’s degree with Honours. Postgraduate degrees take one to two years of study, depending on the course.
University research and development is considered vital, and more than half of Africa’s top research universities are in South Africa, among them the University of Cape Town and the University of Witswaterand (known as ‘Wits’) in Johannesburg. The South African government has made significant investment into research and development in its higher education institutions, including the introduction of tax breaks to encourage private companies to partner with universities in research activities.
Primary and Secondary Education
Attendance at school in South Africa is compulsory from age 7 (grade 1) to age 15 (grade 9), although children are able to attend voluntarily from age 5 (grade 0 or reception). South African primary education begins at age 7 and ends around age 13. Secondary, or further education, is between the ages 14 and 18 (grades 8 -12). Students can choose to leave education in grade 9 or continue on to take the matriculation exam, which is necessary to gain entry into university. There are three types of school in South Africa:
Public non fee-paying schools: available in the poorest areas and completely subsidised by the government
Public fee-paying schools: subsidised by the government but parents also contribute an annual fee (around R25,000 – £1110 – per year)
Private (independent) fee-paying schools: privately owned schools, completely subsidised by fees (around R90,000 – £4257 – per year)
Primary and secondary education is overseen by the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and each of the nine provinces have their own education departments and budgets. Lessons are taught in the official language of the province and class sizes range from 30 to 50 pupils in poorer areas.
Known as ‘kindergarten‘ in South Africa, pre-school care is available for children aged 3 to 7. The kindergarten sector is made up of publicly-funded institutions, which are regulated by the Department of Basic Education, and private and church pre-schools. Fees are payable at both types of pre-school but are cheaper at public kindergartens. The South African government implement an Early Childhood Development (ECD) programme which aims to guide kindergartens in teaching young children and also to encourage more children into early years education.
The cost of living in South Africa is cheap by international standards, yet prices have been slowly rising in recent years. A tough economy, high unemployment and the fluctuating Rand have pushed prices up, particularly for fuel and utilities and there is a noticeable divide between rich and poor across the country.
Prices for food and accommodation tend to be higher in the larger cities of Cape Town and Johannesburg, where jobs are easier to find and salaries higher. While the cost of living is cheap in South Africa compared with other developed countries, it is relative to the average monthly disposable salary of R16,190 (£752).
Accommodation costs have risen sharply in South Africa in recent years, particularly in the Western Cape and larger cities. However, property prices and rents remain cheap in comparison to Europe, Australia and USA. There are many different types of property on offer in South Africa – from city centre apartments to rambling country houses with land – at affordable prices. South Africans are a nation of homeowners and owning a property is seen as a sign of status. There are no restrictions for foreign nationals buying property in South Africa, yet potential buyers should take into account estate agents fees, taxes and registration costs associated with buying a house.
Many South Africans are unable to get onto the property ladder, so the country has a flourishing rental market. Rents are more expensive in the cities and along the tourist routes and coastline. Short-term rents (up to three months) are widely available and properties are advertised through the South African Tourist Board. Long-term rental properties can be found in newspapers, through estate agents and online, although it’s a good idea to be in South Africa when searching for rental accommodation.
Tenants generally pay a security deposit upon signing a rental lease agreement in South Africa. The deposit can be one to three month’s rent in advance and by law the landlord or estate agent must place the deposit in an interest-bearing account. Landlords can deduct money from this account to cover damages when the tenant leaves.
Homeowners in South Africa must pay a property-related tax called the ‘municipal tax’. Payments are calculated based on the market value of the property and has sparked controversy in recent years due to poorer homeowners paying more than their wealthier counterparts. Owners and tenants are also required to pay monthly refuse collection and sewerage charges.
Utility rates differ according to area in South Africa but are generally lower than in Europe and the USA. Electricity charges are based on usage and South Africa uses 230V mains electricity. The largest electricity provider, Eskom, is state-run and has a reputation for being unreliable, with residents experiencing frequent blackouts and inflated prices.
Gas is not supplied to households in South Africa and most residents cook and heat their homes with electricity. However, there is now a growing trend in using LPG gas canisters in the home, which are supplied by Eskom and offer a cheaper alternative to rising electricity prices. Water rates are managed by the South African Association of Water Utilities (SAAWU). Charges are imposed on a sliding scale according to consumption and prices are kept at a low level. Tap water is safe to drink in urban areas but is best avoided in rural areas. Expats moving to South Africa can expect to pay an average R1069 (£50.65) per month for basic utilities (electricity, heating, water, refuse and sewerage).
South Africa has a telecommunications network coverage of around 99.9% and Internet access is fast and reliable in urban areas. Phone and broadband packages are often charged at a flat rate and you can expect to pay around R733 (£34) per month for a 10mbps connection.
If you own a television in South Africa, by law you must pay a TV licence fee of R265 (£21), per year, which is used to fund programming at the South African Broadcasting Association (SABC).
Healthcare and medical costs
South Africa has a two-tier system of public and private healthcare. The public healthcare sector is chronically understaffed and of poor quality, while the private healthcare sector has modern hospitals, facilities and highly trained medical professionals. There is a large gap in the quality of services between the two systems, with wealthy South Africans able to afford private healthcare and poorer communities having less access to suitable medical treatment.
Public healthcare in South Africa is billed through the Uniform Patient Fee Schedule (UPFS) and differs according to the patient, their health needs and financial situation, but the cost of hospital treatment or visit to a GP is generally very low. The South African Government is currently fast-tracking a National Insurance scheme which it hopes will make the system more equitable and raise standards. A private health insurance policy is a must for expats moving to South Africa and is relatively cheap. Popular choices for insurance for non-South Africans are Bupa Global or South Africa’s largest provider, Discovery Health.
South Africa has regulated prescription medicine prices and a Single Exit Price (SEP) states the maximum price a medicine can be charged at. Pharmacists often charge a dispensing fee on top of prescriptions. More information about prescription medicines in South Africa can be found here.
South Africa has numerous large shopping malls in urban areas and chain department stores such as Woolworths which sell everything, from food to clothing. There are a variety of large supermarket chains such as Shoprite and Pick n Pay, and traditional markets selling fresh produce in urban and rural areas. Some of the larger supermarket chains now offer online shopping and delivery services. Food and clothing are relatively cheap by international standards, with prices for clothing and homeware being higher in the more exclusive department stores and boutiques. Most shops are open between 9am and 6pm, with limited opening hours on Sundays and public holidays.
Most goods and services in South Africa are subject to VAT (Value Added Tax), which is currently set at 14%.
Rent on 1-bedroom apartment in city centre – R4937.20 (£229) per month
Rent on 1-bedroom apartment outside city centre – R4158.58 (£193) per month
Price of apartment in city centre – R11813.39 (£549) per square metre
Price of apartment outside city centre –R9386 (£436) per square metre
South Africa has a temperate climate with hot, dry summers and mild winters. It is a sunny country (8-10 hours of sunshine a day) and has a lower than average annual rainfall of 450mm. During the summer months (October to February) temperatures can reach 35°C, with brief but intense thunderstorms. In the winter months (May to July) temperatures drop to around -2°C. Winters are crisp and dry but heavy snowfall can be expected in the mountainous areas of the Western and Northern Capes.
Safety and Security
South Africa has one of the highest crime rates in the world, and although the crime rate has slowed in recent years, problems persist in the densely populated urban areas on the edge of cities (called townships). The tourist zones of Cape Town and Durban are more heavily policed, making them significantly safer for travellers. It is advised never to stop for people in the road and also to keep valuables out of sight at all times. It is also wise not to stray out of the main metropolitan areas and only venture out in groups after dark.
South Africa follows much of the rest of the developed world, with the majority of employees working 45 hours a week, Monday to Friday, from 9am to 5pm. Employees can agree to work up to a maximum of 10 hours overtime a week, paid at time-and-a-half, but can only work a maximum of 12 hours a day. Employees are usually paid double time for working on Sunday. This may differ if the worker’s job normally requires them to work on Sundays, however. People working between 6pm and 6am must receive an allowance and have transport provided for them to travel to and from work.
Salaries range from around R5,600 (£264) per month for factory and warehouse jobs, to over R45,000 (£2,121) per month for managers, professionals and skilled workers.
Holiday entitlement is relatively low in South Africa, with workers commonly receiving 21 days, including weekends, which is the equivalent of three weeks paid leave per year. In addition, workers are entitled to between 12 and 13 paid public holidays a year. If workers are employed for less than a year, they are entitled to one day of holiday for every 17 days worked or one hour for every 17 worked. Employees must be given holiday by law and bosses cannot offer to pay workers paid leave instead.
There are 13 main public holidays in South Africa but this may vary according to province.
Public holiday dates
New Year’s Day: 1 January
Human Rights Day: 21 March
Good Friday: 19 April
Family Day (Monday after Easter Sunday): 22 April
Freedom Day: 27 April
Workers’ Day: 1 May
Youth Day: 16 June
Women’s Day: 9 August
Heritage Day: 24 September
Day of Reconciliation: 16 December
Christmas Day: 25 December
Day of Goodwill: 26 December
Visas and Eligibility to Work
The government tightened the laws on people travelling to South Africa in 2014 and the changes came into effect on 1st June 2015. The biggest change is that children are now required to have their own passport. To enter South Africa people with certain nationalities must apply for a visa which allows them to visit the country for business or tourism purposes for up to 90 days. There are many countries which are exempt from applying for a South African visa, this list can be found here: http://www.dha.gov.za/index.php/immigration-services/exempt-countries. More information about visas to South Africa can be found at southafrica.info, the country’s principal information gateway.
Following the initial three-month visiting period, expats must apply for a residence permit in order to stay in South Africa. There are four main types of temporary residence permit which foreigners can apply for and they are primarily aimed at tackling the labour shortages across the country.
A quota-work permit is available for those with particular jobs such as engineers, craftsman, and those with technical skills. Workers must provide proof of employment to the Department of Home Affairs within three months or have their visa revoked. Proof of employment is required every year after the initial three-month trial. Permits are also issued to those with general skills, exceptional skills and to those who have moved to the country with their existing company on an intra-company transfer work permit. Corporate, business and exchange permits are also available, depending on the reasons for staying in the country.
Once in South Africa, any queries regarding permits can be made to the local offices of the Department of Home Affairs, based in most large towns and cities.
The South African tax year runs from 1st March to 28th February. Tax return forms, known as ITR12, must be filed between July and November every year. All individuals resident and employed in South Africa are liable for income tax and this is taken through the employer. There are two main tax payments, one made to central government and the other to the South African Revenue Service (SARS) which is the local government.
Central government tax is made up through income tax which is set at 18% to 40% according to income, VAT, corporation tax and fuel duty. SARS payments are made up of grants from central government and local rates. If you earn less than R350,000 (£16,502) per year before tax you are exempt. Anyone earning more than this must submit an ITR12. Tax returns can be submitted online through eFiling through the website www.sarsefiling.co.za. You must have a SARS tax code which can be obtained when registering in person at a SARS Branch with a valid ID. Businesses file tax returns at the end of the tax year by submitting an ITR14 form.
Middle earners in South Africa contribute to employer-based retirement plans with monthly contributions coming out of wage packets of up to 10% of earnings.
The State Pension, known as the Older Person’s Grant, is available for people when they reach 60. The grant is available for citizens, long-term residents and refugees. It is means-tested by the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) and takes into account a person’s income and assets. The amount changes each year but currently the maximum a person receives is R1,350 (£63) per month and R1,370 (£64.60) for over 75s. The pension is not available for people earning more than R64,680 (£3,050) per year or for married couples with a combined income of more than R129,360 (£6,101) per year.
To apply, you must fill in a form at your local SASSA office and provide ID, proof of address, income and assets.
The South African social security system is a free service controlled by the SASSA and is open to foreigners who fulfil certain criteria. Foreigners should make it a priority to obtain a social security number (from the SASSA local office) by filling in a SS-5 Social Security form.
Foreigners working on contracts or people on commission or working less than 24 hours a month cannot apply for unemployment benefit. Everybody can claim sickness benefits. Visit the SASSA website to find out more.
Since the Constitution came into effect in 1996, citizens have a right to freedom from discrimination based on disabilities. Employers now have a legal requirement to make practical changes to support disabled workers. Events, such as Disability Rights Awareness Month, also attempt to promote inclusive working practices.
The landscape of business in South Africa has changed dramatically since the 1990s. Nowadays, business culture in South Africa is much more inclusive and organisations have been encouraged to adopt an equal and democratic management style. However, it is important to remember that although a great deal of progress has been made in equal opportunities, there is still a way to go.
South Africa has a number of large global corporations and medium-sized and small enterprises. The country’s principal trading partners are Germany, USA, Japan, China, UK, Spain and the rest of the African continent. Business and management culture is not dissimilar to Europe and the USA, with open communication between workers and informal management techniques.
South African management style has changed considerably and companies are now under legal obligation to be more representative and adaptable in the management of their workforce. Managers are much less authoritarian than they were previously and business is seen as a ‘hands-on’ team effort with transparency between managers and workers. Generally speaking, South Africans are strong communicators and love to talk so management teams tend to be informal and approachable.
How formal a workplace culture is depends on the type of company, but South Africans are known for being laid back and like to use humour to break the ice. However, although South African business can be a relaxed affair – sloppy dressing, not showing respect to elders and touching (apart from a handshake) would be considered unacceptable. South African people are very direct communicators and like to get straight to the point so try not to take offence if a business associate says what is on his/her mind straightaway.
Networking and relationship-building are essential if you wish to be successful in business in South Africa. South Africans like to establish a certain level of trust before they commit to business contracts and negotiations. Initial meetings should be more about getting to know one another on a personal level before business is discussed.
South Africans place great emphasis on family groups and friendship networks and this culture influences overall business practice. Co-workers often become friends and socialise together, or know each other from previous walks of life. South Africans generally like to do business face-to-face and are reluctant to deal with people they don’t know or have not met before in person. Although mixing business with personal or intimate relationships is inevitable in the workplace, it is best avoided.
Business attire in South Africa is generally a suit, tie and shirt for men and a trouser or skirt suit for women. Revealing or outlandish clothing is frowned upon and South Africans place great importance on presentation, so clothing should be ironed and shoes polished at all times. Warmer business clothing is needed in winter (between June and August), whereas short-sleeved shirts and blouses are acceptable in the summer months (November to January).
The accepted business greeting in South Africa is a firm handshake. Some women will nod in greeting and you should only shake hands with a woman if she extends her hand first. Business associates who know each other rarely use titles but addressing a woman as ‘miss’ without knowing her marital status may cause offence. In a university, legal or healthcare setting, titles such as ‘professor,’ ‘judge,’ or ‘doctor’ are used as a sign of respect.
South African punctuality depends on cultural heritage and varies between those who like to be on time, particularly English-speaking business people, and those who are more time-flexible. Be prepared to wait for people to turn up to meetings – it is wise to make sure everyone knows the exact time and place well in advance. Sometimes lateness is often unavoidable in South Africa as serious traffic congestion in the larger cities can pose an impediment to getting somewhere on time, despite best intentions.
South Africans prefer to do business face-to-face rather than by phone or video conferencing. Meetings tend to be informal with some degree of small talk permitted before getting down to business. South Africans are warm and gregarious people and dispensing with social niceties, even in business meetings, would be considered ill-mannered and over-aggressive. It is often difficult to schedule business meetings between mid-December and mid-January as this is when most South Africans take their holidays.
South Africa’s turbulent history is a sensitive subject which is discussed but not dwelled on today. Foreigners are advised against bringing race or politics up in a business setting as South Africans can become touchy about the issue.
In terms of communication style in meetings, this can differ significantly depending on a person’s cultural heritage. For example, there are differences between the way a black South African communicates to that of a white South African (and further differences between different cultural backgrounds). You should not generalise according to race when dealing with South Africans in business.
Although South Africa has 11 official languages, business is generally carried out in English. Most South Africans will switch to English when there is someone present who doesn’t speak their language. Most people involved in business speak a good degree of English, sometimes with a heavy accent. In these circumstances it is acceptable to politely ask the speaker to repeat anything not understood.