South Africa has nine provinces with Gauteng (34.9%), Kwazulu-Natal (16%) and the Western Cape (13.9%) and the main contributors to the national GDP. The same three provinces also boast the three major international airports and KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape host the country’s major Ports for international trade. South Africa’s exports of goods and services as a percentage of GDP is 29.91% and imports of goods and services as a percentage of GDP is 29.56%. Learn more

It comes as no surprise then that the biggest Business Chambers are based in these three to four regions, and membership include the larger multinational corporate clients, right down to single owner SME’s. The Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Gauteng), Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KwaZulu-Natal), Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Western Cape) and the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber (Eastern Cape) count amongst the top Chambers in terms of membership numbers and services offered. There are a large number of medium sized Chambers in the bigger towns outside the Metros, and in each small town one might find a variety of forums and associations that operate in that space. Suffice to say that support for local businesses is far reaching, and for international companies seeking advice, support and access to information it will be useful to engage with the larger chambers, as well as to investigate area-specific chamber support outside the Metro’s.

Unfortunately, there are not many functional Regional Chamber organisations, but in various districts such as the Garden Route in the Western Cape, Vaal Triangle in Gauteng and others good progress is made to establish collaborative partnerships – mainly due to the forced effect of Covid-19 (organisations realising they cannot face this alone) and the economic situation in South Africa in general.

It must also be noted though that there are a number of National Chamber bodies representing most local and smaller chambers and associations through a collective membership base, and through them the lobbying to the National Government was and can be initiated. The National Government supports and endorses these organisations and will continuously seek their inputs where it concerns the business sector. The most prominent of these are the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry ; National African Federated Chamber Of Commerce And Industry ; Black Business Council ; Business Unity South Africa and a more provincially represented organisation, the AHI Western Cape .

Foreign companies wishing to expand their markets into South Africa, or to invest in projects and infrastructure in the country, are advised to – apart from working through their embassy and the Department of Trade and Industry – engage with either the National bodies above, or directly with city or town specific Chamber organisations, who will inter alia guide them with area or sector specific information such as:

  • Regional positioning of the city or town of choice of the foreign company
  • Competitive advantages and business climate for their specific town or sector
  • Guidance towards real estate viability for both business and personal needs in the town
  • Growth sectors information for the region
  • Quality of life information of the town and surrounding region
  • Human capital and levels of education in the area
  • Linkages to local expertise in the sector or industry

Local companies wishing to export are supported by many bigger Chambers in the Metro’s and some selected towns on issues such as export training, trade seminars, letters of origin, logistics and market advice.

In closing it is clear that assistance and guidance is available for foreign companies in a variety of forms and sizes and should there be a wish for foreign companies to do business in and with South African companies, Chambers and Associations is one source that can be utilized, not in isolation of any other feasibility requirements, but as an additional tool to make the right decisions.  Local Chambers understands the local conditions so much better to ensure a good fit for the foreign company.

Paul Hoffman
Project Manager – Garden Route Development Partnership
Western Cape, South Africa
paul ( a )

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