To anyone that has traveled extensively through Africa, to say that South Africa is different from the rest of Africa is not something that would shock you. While South Africa’s Apartheid history did damage to many aspects of life there, the one major difference that you notice when landing there and spending any time in the major cities is that the infrastructure is miles ahead of most other African cities.
Johannesburg/Pretoria, Capetown and Durban and the major thoroughfares between them are built so that one could believe that they are driving in many places around Europe or North America. By comparison, drive through the major cities of the vast majority of every other country throughout Africa and it isn’t the same. The roads and highways are not as well thought out, traffic can be ridiculously long, there is often inadequate drainage, poorly constructed and/or informal public transportation systems and the construction and finishing on most buildings has a different look.
Doing business in South Africa is also slightly different than in most parts of Africa. While you’ll still find a vast majority of the population using pre-paid cellular connections, for example, unlike North America where most people are on post-paid plans, the percentage of people on post-paid in South Africa is much higher than in most other parts of Africa. (approximately double the number than the second highest penetrating country.)
South Africa is often looked to by many other African nations as a big brother/sister to help show them the way forward in many aspects of governance and infrastructure and while it certainly is not perfect and has been caught up recently with serious shortages of electricity (due to a lack of foresight into future energy needs) and other domestic issues, the economy is generally strong and the quality of life is generally higher than that of most other African nations.
Some western companies find that the South Africa market is a ‘safer’ market to be the first to expand into when looking to grow internationally into Africa. In many ways that is true. Foreign governments and lending agencies do tend to consider the South African market as less risky an investment when providing for things like credit insurance against payables. You’ll often find Johannesburg listed as the African Hub of international companies. It is relatively easy to open up a subsidiary and banking options are safe without many currency import/export restrictions in South Africa as well. The population is relatively large at over 55 Million, so if your offering is unique or differentiated enough, it is a good starting point for export. The vast majority of the mid to large sized companies of the country are also online and easier to find when looking for potential foreign partners. Many industries are much more mature than you would find in other parts of Africa. In some respects that may be less of an advantage to your company than launching in a smaller, less developed country, but that is all part of understanding the various markets and developing your strategy accordingly.
It is probably one of the easiest countries in Africa to get to and to meet with prospective partners in a ‘safe’ environment similar to what westerners might be used to at home. The country itself is also beautiful and has a strong tourism industry. From safari’s to beautiful beaches on the ocean, with easy access to business and cultural hubs, it certainly has many things going for it and is a unique and strong market among the many in Africa that you could chose to expand into.
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