CROSS-CULTURAL MANAGEMENT IN SOUTH AFRICA : PROBLEMS, OBSTACLES, AND AGENDA FOR COMPANIES
Nathalie Prime, Groupe ESCP-EAP
Within the context of opening of South African economy, the purpose of this paper is to explore cross cultural management issues in South African multicultural organisations. Using an emic approach, sixteen business cases were studies to explore the following questions : (1) What are the major problems and obstacles to be faced by South African firms to create a non racial integrative corporate culture ? ; (2) What agenda could be agreed upon by corporate management to efficiently manage cultural diversity in a transitional environment ?
Within the context of opening of South African economy, the purpose of this paper is to explore the problems and obstacles to efficient cross-cultural management as well as what could be the agenda for building a corporate non racial integrative culture in South African multicultural organizations. Since the first all-race elections in 1994 when apartheid was abolished, South Africa has been facing the challenge to manage the tremendous cultural diversity of its people, while confronted with the context of economic transition towards global economy. For the first time in South African history, the choice was democratically made to look at future prospects within a co-development approach, rather than a seperate development (apartheid) that used to prevail. Still, international press is often stressing the fact that almost nothing has changed in daily life  : the symbolic vision of the « Rainbow Nation » does not always keep up with reality. Thus, using an emic approach, sixteen business cases were studies to explore the following questions : (1) What are the major problems and obstacles to be faced by South African firms to create a non racial integrative corporate culture ? ; (2) What agenda could be agreed upon by corporate management to efficiently manage cultural diversity in a transitional environment ?
1. SOUTH AFRICAN PEOPLE AND ORGANIZATIONS
a) the specifics of South African Business Environment
South African economy is characterized by a transition period with increasing competitiveness requirements, the disappearance of trade protection and rapid technological changes (Mills et al., 1995). Like many other transitional economies, SA has been launched into the highly competitive global market place. As in the People’s Republic of China or in the former Soviet countries and other former communist countries, South African organizations are facing the problem of change through appropriate management and development of people within an economy of transition. Still SA presents a set of features which alltogether tend to make SA a special place and the African exception (Richmond and Gestrin 1998) that does not fit well into any one IMF economic development characterization (Hofmeyr et al., 1994). In some urban sectors, urban life is almost like in the USA with first-class communication, medicine, transportation, shopping malls, …in some others, basically the townships and the rural areas, there is a very significant poor and underdeveloped economic sector. This economic dualism has tended to cleave along racial lines. One must also note that the very historical development of the country is not typical of past african colonial patterns (Dagut, 1977). European settlement, initially Dutch and later English, dates from 1652 and was the earliest in Africa. Whites have created the richest and most industrialized country in Africa and maintained for themselves a standard of living as high as anywhere in the First World. In the main, South African settlers preserved their literary and cultural identity and technological inheritance. Also, amongst the transitional countries, the way SA is coping with the past and the future of recent History is remarquably unique. Recent history of apartheid (1948-1994) has led to...
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