Focus On South Africa


Population: 49,991,000
Monetary unit: rand (R)
Capital city: Pretoria
Major languages: Afrikaans; English; Ndebele; Pedi (North Sotho); Sotho (South Sotho); Swazi; Tsonga; Tswana (West Sotho); Venda; Xhosa; Zulu.
Major religions: independent Christian 37.1%, of which Zion Christian 9.5%; Protestant 26.1%; traditional beliefs 8.9%; Roman Catholic 6.7%; Muslim 2.5%; Hindu 2.4%; nonreligious 3.0%; other/unknown 13.3%
Ethnic composition: black 79.3%, of which Zulu c. 24%, Xhosa c. 18%, Pedi c. 9%, Tswana c. 8%, Sotho c. 8%, Tsonga c. 4%, Swazi c. 3%, other black c. 5%; white 9.1%; mixed white/black 9.0%; Asian/other 2.6%
Age breakdown: under 15, 31.0%; 15–29, 29.5%; 30–44, 20.1%; 45–59, 11.8%; 60–74, 6.0%; 75 and over, 1.6%
Life expectancy: male 53.3 years; female 55.2 years
Education: Percentage of population age 20 and over having: no formal schooling 10.4%; some primary education 21.1%; complete primary/some secondary 34.0%; complete secondary 24.9%; higher 9.1%
Urban/Rural split: urban 59.28%; rural 40.72%
Income per household (USD): -
Broadband internet users (%): -

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica


South Africa is the economic powerhouse of the Continent, and the country multinational brands first think of when they plan their African launches. Although it was hit by an electricity crisis in 2009, the economy has recovered well and received a significant boost from the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

It has a relatively advanced PR industry with a good number of sizeable agencies and many brands making good use of a thriving media sector. More than four million of the 49 million South Africans are now on Facebook, and for many PR practitioners digital media is the new focus.

Sharon Ezzeldin, corporate communications manager for Central Eastern Europe, Middle East & Africa at Discovery Networks says: “While South Africa still struggles with  broadband issues and the majority of the population doesn’t have access to the internet via a computer, social media is growing at a staggering rate in this market,
mainly due to mobile access.”

James Wilson, PR manager for Microsoft West, East, Central Africa & Indian Ocean Islands, believes the South African PR industry is failing to react to this shift. “Social media is a business imperative – not a trend,” he says. “It will no longer be owned by a division within marketing. Very few PR agencies are aligning social media strategically with their communications and doing it well.”

Working There

In Association With:

Fabric recruitment

Foreign nationals who decide to relocate to South Africa should prepare themselves for a country of geographical and cultural diversity.

South Africa has a major skills shortage and job opportunities for skilled expats are plentiful in certain sectors; particularly ICT, engineering and education. However, in spite of this skills shortage, getting permission to work in South Africa isn't easy

Red Tape

Due to the country's high unemployment figures and large number of unskilled workers, temporary positions and low-income jobs are very hard to come by. Top positions - such as senior managers in the public sector - are in higher demand; as are nurses, specialist doctors and architects. Foreign nationals with extensive experience, outstanding qualifications or niche skills in high-demand sectors stand the best chance of being accepted into the country.

Post-apartheid, a scheme was put in place called ‘affirmative action', which dictates that companies with over 50 employees are legally obliged to hire a certain proportion of previously disadvantaged staff. This can limit white job seekers, but won't impact expats with high-demand skills as they're exempt from the regulations.

Visas and work permits

Rather confusingly, a South African visa only relates to a short-term stay and is mainly for tourists or people on short business trips. Those looking for a longer, or permanent, stay in South Africa will need to get a work permit and not a visa. Unfortunately, the process requires a huge amount of patience.

While it's feasible to organise the necessary documentation once you arrive in the country, it's much better to arrange the paperwork before you move. The South African consulates in western countries are often more efficient than the South Africa's own Department of Home Affairs.

There are three main types of work permit:

  • General work permit
  • Quota work permit
  • Exceptional skills permit

A general skills permit is granted to a person applying for a specific position in a specific company. The employer or sponsor offering the job has to prove that the position can't be filled by a South African citizen. To this end, the role has to be advertised for a certain amount of time

without a suitable local candidate coming forward before approval can be given to the foreign applicant.

This permit needs to be applied for again if an expat wants to change job roles or work at a different company.

A quota work permit is granted to expats who can prove that their profile fits onto the official list of ‘scarce skills’. This list changes annually and is very specific, so it's a good idea to make sure you meet the criteria before applying for this type of permit.

Candidates are required to have specific qualifications and at least five years experience in their chosen field. For example, teachers are on the scarce skills list, but only those who specialise in maths and science and have taught the subject for more than five years.

An exceptional skills permit is granted to those who have a very unique skill set in an industry or discipline. This permit is not limited to a specific place of employment or a single position but encompasses the entire field. The applicant has to prove that they have exceptional skills and that the skill set can’t be found in a South African citizen.

Proving you’re a better candidate for the job than a hypothetical South African is what causes the most difficulties. The decision tends to fall to the personal discretion of the official involved in reviewing the application. Patience, determination and charm are much needed, especially if you don’t have the help and support of an employer or sponsor.

Residency visas

Expats who plan to be in South Africa for a number of years often decide to obtain a permanent residency visa. This can be preferable to the hassle of continuing to use a temporary visa that has to be renewed regularly.

A permanent residency visa is valid for a lifetime; the holder just has to come back and stay in

South Africa once every three years to ensure it remains valid.

Additionally, permanent residency holders are able to:

  • Access credit and banking in the same way as a South African citizen
  • Obtain a South African driving licence
  • Sponsor relatives who also wish to relocate
  • Work with far less restrictions, set up a business or study

Although applications for permanent residency visas can - in theory - be made as stand-alone requests, the vast majority of immigrants have to get a temporary residency visa first. This is mainly because permanent residency applications can take anywhere between 12 and 36 months to be processed and expats have to have some form of official approval in the meantime.

The Department of Home Affairs in South Africa is notorious for its slow customer service, disorganisation and seemingly conflicting standards. And, because each application is reviewed on a case by case basis, there are large grey areas. Not only that, the application process for a residency visa varies according to what an expat wishes to do in the country. There are various categories and it’s essential to apply within the right one.

The help, experience and knowledge an immigration practitioner provides can be invaluable in preparing the correct application and monitoring its process.


The cost of living in South Africa is not as cheap as it once was. Increasing food costs, frequent electricity hikes and high fuel prices are all contributory factors. And, although salaries negotiated in the South African currency may make for a fairly comfortable lifestyle, they may not go as far outside local borders.

Nonetheless, for the many expats who end up living in one of the big cities, everyday costs will be far cheaper than in New York City, London, Hong Kong or any of the other western or Asian superpowers.


Income tax rates in South Africa range from 18% to 40% and, thanks to the introduction of capital gains tax in 2001, any capital assets can be taxed as long as an expat is regarded as a resident; even if the assets are situated overseas and remain unsold.

Expats that are recognised as residents are also taxed on their worldwide income, whereas non-residents are only taxed on their South African-based income. This includes taxation on rent from property assets in South Africa, interest from loans used or applied for in South Africa, and salaries.Some countries – such as the UK - have a double taxation agreement with South Africa. For instance, if you pay tax on a rental property in London you won't pay tax on it a second time in South AfricaIt pays to get help from an accountant - both in your home country and in South Africa - before you arrive.


Whether you're relocating to Johannesburg, Cape Town, or anywhere else in South Africa, the range, quality and affordability of accommodation will probably make adjusting to life on the African continent a little easier. On the whole, houses are larger than in most European countries, and even a relatively inexpensive property often has a garden and a swimming pool.

Renting property

Renting is, thankfully, a straightforward process. To secure a deal, you just have to show that your monthly income is at least three times the rental-value of the property and then pay a deposit of one or two month's rent. Leases are typically signed on a one or two-year basis, although shorter periods are possible.

Generally, the further away from the city you plan to live, the less expensive the rent will be. Equally, expats will get more for their money in Johannesburg than in Cape Town.

Renting one room in a larger house that’s shared by other people (house sharing) is also very popular in South Africa, and is a great way for newcomers to make friends. Average monthly rental prices in good areas:

(1 South African rand = 0.12 US dollars, 0.07 British pounds and 0.09 Euros)

A two-bedroom luxury apartment in Cape Town city centre - 15,000 ZAR

A two-bedroom apartment in Johannesburg city centre - 6,000 ZAR

A three-bedroom house in an upmarket Johannesburg suburb - 13,000 ZAR

A three-bedroom luxury house in an upmarket Cape Town suburb - 25,000 ZAR

Average monthly utility costs:

Electricity for a 2-3 bedroom house - 1,200 ZAR

Water for a 2-3 bedroom house - 600 ZAR


There’s been an increase of roughly 8% to 10% in the price of food in South Africa in the last two years and prices continue to escalate. Expats who like to eat out at restaurants will soon find that this has become an expensive luxury that can cost as much as four times more than eating at home.

To give a rough idea of what out-goings you can expect, a family of two adults and two children would have an average monthly food bill of about 5,000 ZAR a month. That’s roughly equivalent to 461 EUR, 396 GBP and 633 USD.

It almost goes without saying that local produce and South African brands are substantially cheaper than imported goods and shopping with this in mind will help to keep costs down.

Average costs:

2 litres of milk - 18 ZAR

Loaf of bread - 9 ZAR

1litre mineral water -20 ZAR

Bottle of wine - 30 ZAR

Toothpaste - 12 ZAR


Paying a monthly fee for private security is an expense that many expats won’t have factored into their budgets. Although most expats invest in some form of security protection, expats that end up living in Johannesburg will discover a particular obsession with home security, electrified fences and a hatred for walking alone at night.

For ultimate peace of mind, it’s prudent to hire a private security firm that will install an alarm system in your home; some will even provide a night patrol and an armed response service. Most firms charge a monthly fee that is very reasonable.


South Africa lags behind the US and Europe in terms of fast, affordable internet access. Broadband is still a fairly new thing and is comparatively expensive. You can expect to pay around 500 ZAR a month for 1 Gig of data at 512 mbps; although this usually includes a phone line.

Be wary of signing an extended contract as there may be penalty fees if you have to terminate it early.

School Fees

When it comes to education, there are plenty of schools to choose from. However, there’s a vast difference in fees for the much-praised private schools and much-maligned government-run facilities.

A top private school will charge from 30,000 ZAR to around 100,000 ZAR, depending on what school year the child is in.

Model C school fees vary from 20,000 ZAR to 40,000 ZAR, again depending on the school year. (Model C are government schools that are administered and funded by the parents. They can offer exceptional facilities and a very high standard of tuition.)

Government-funded schools charge on a sliding scale according to parental income. Fees can be anything from 500 ZAR to 15,000 ZAR.

Culture Snapshot

South Africa is well-known for its outdoor lifestyle, excellent standard of living and a working environment that's full of opportunities for career development – especially for the highly educated and highly skilled.

But, South Africa is also country of massive disparity. It has well-developed areas and under-developed areas, obvious wealth runs alongside obvious poverty; and you'll soon encounter these harsh divides. For some expats, this can be hard to get used to. But, for those that can acclimatise, a host of new experiences and a fantastic lifestyle lie in wait.

The most popular places to settle are the very different cities of Cape Town and Johannesburg. Johannesburg is a bustling 24-hour business centre with a work-hard, play-hard attitude, while Cape Town offers a more space, cleaner air, beach and mountain-framed landscapes and a famously relaxed way of life.


As mentioned before, a lot has been made of the crime levels in South Africa and, unfortunately, it's true that the country does have a problem. It's really only to be expected in a country that still has so much poverty and is still recovering from the divisive Apartheid era.

However, as long as expats take appropriate precautions, and remain vigilant, there's no reason to be

unduly frightened or worried. Most incidences occur in poorer communities that are fairly far removed from the main expat areas; while the crime statistics for affluent areas are similar to those for any large, international city.

Cape Town

Cape Town is probably South Africa’s most efficiently run city and crime levels are lower. The city’s popularity rests on its renowned natural beauty and wealth of outdoor attractions, coupled with a relaxed lifestyle, easily accessible culture and mild climate. Although small, Cape Town has the feel of a large international city, with excellent restaurants and cafés, world-class shopping, and top-quality private healthcare. Cape Town and the Cape Peninsula up to Cape Point, is also famous for its beautiful beaches; water sports, Table Mountain; whale-watching, nightlife and wine.


Expats moving to Johannesburg will find a city with a unique personality. Unlike Cape Town, there are very few parks, lakes or other outdoor spots where residents can relax. Instead, locals tend to head to the huge shopping malls to shop, socialise, drink coffee and watch films.

The shopping malls are similar in many ways to modern malls in any western country; although, the choice of clothing and shoes is limited if compared to London, New York and Singapore.

Johannesburg also features some great entertainment venues, unforgettable annual events, world-class sporting facilities and luxurious spas.

As you’d expect in big cities, both Cape Town and Jo’burg have the ubiquitous fast-food outlets, such as McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Nandos.

Lots of Africans of all cultures are avid sports fans: cricket, rugby and soccer are the national sports and - in keeping with the outdoor lifestyle - you’ll often see them being played by groups of friends or families.

Wine connoisseurs will love the tours round the Cape winelands, where you can sample real South African hospitality... and real South African wine! Pinotage is the country’s signature grape variety.

And don’t forget to participate in one of the favourite national pastimes: a ‘braai’ (Afrikaans for barbecue or grill), which involves cooking meat on an open fire. It’s basically a laid-back social event where family and friends get together to cook and eat and socialise. It’s so popular that there’s even a national Braai Day on 24 September every year!

And if none of that tickles your fancy, there’s also 3,000 km of coastline to explore and mountains to climb. Wildlife lovers will be spoilt for choice: cage-diving with sharks, swimming with African penguins, whale watching and tracking the ‘big five’ on safari. And that’s just for a start!




South Africa has a manageably small media market and the top PR practitioners tend to have close relationships with all the key journalists. In fact media relations is a particular strength of the South African PR industry.

Drivetime radio sets the national political agenda with state broadcaster SAFM and John Robbie on commercial station Talk 702 FM. Other important commercial stations include Kaya FM and Cape Talk. South Africa's 11 official languages are catered for by the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s (SABC) radio stations. 


The SABC also owns three TV channels and other key channels include e-TV and M-Net. DSTV, a local satellite provider, streams local and global channels, including news, movies and sports. The English Premier League has a huge following, with almost every game aired.


There are around 30 newspaper titles and 280 locally published magazine titles. Beyond the major tabloids The Star and Daily Sun, the influential Sowetan and Afrikaans Beeld and The Star are key mainstream daily papers. Business Day, Business Report and weeklies such as the Financial Mail and Mail and Guardian lead the business agenda, while key lifestyle publications are FHM, GQ, YOU/Huisgenoot/Drum, Heat, and People.


Major Brands

According to research conducted by media intelligence institute, Media Tenor South Africa, the top brands in terms of editorial coverage rarely changes.


It analysed 138,023 articles in the South African media, and found that in both 2009 and 2010, these companies took the lion’s share of coverage: MTN, Eskom, Anglo American, SABC, Telkom, Vodacom, ABSA, Standard Bank, South African Airways and Transnet and BHP Billiton.



The 2010 Ad Review league table of PR agencies tells a clear story: TBWA affiliate Magna Carta comes out a long way ahead of its nearest rival with revenues of 110m rand, compared to Hill & Knowlton-owned Meropa’s 28 million. Magna Carta also picked up a gold, two silvers and two bronze medals at the PRISM awards.


Fleishman-Hillard, Atmosphere, Arcay, Marcus Brewster, Lange 360, Ogilvy PR, Redline and Kezi Communications make up the rest of South Africa’s top ten PR agencies.


Another worth noting is Gullan & Gullan which between 2009 and 2011 grew its revenue by 200% to 2.5 million rand, and counts multinational brands like Vespa, VO5 and Carling among its clients.


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