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A Critique of Hofstedes Cultural Dimensions in Relation to South Africa

According to Professor Geert Hofstede, culture is defined as the collective programming


of the mind distinguishing the members of one group or category of people from others
(Hofstede, Hofstede, & Minkov, 2010). It was the author of this definition that created the idea
behind Hofstedes Cultural Dimensions. Hofstede, along with Gert Jan Hofstede and Michael
Minkov, found six different dimensions as the result of extensive research between 1967 and
1973. These dimensions consist of the power-distance index, individualism versus collectivism,
masculinity versus femininity, uncertainty avoidance index, long term orientation versus short
term normative orientation, and indulgence versus restraint. These dimensions are useful in
understanding and gaining knowledge of other cultures relative to our own.
Culture is something we often forget to acknowledge; we prefer to simply coexist without
recognition of the extensive differences that occur between each culture. However, cultural
knowledge, your understanding about culture and how it shapes behavior (Livermore, 2011), is
extremely important. One way of understanding culture in relation to others is through utilizing
Hofstedes Cultural Dimensions. In applying Hofstedes Cultural Dimensions, it is possible to
see how the individualism versus collectivism dimension and the indulgence versus restraint
dimension manifest themselves dissimilarity among whites and blacks within South Africa.
South Africa has a long history of race discrimination, with the apartheid having only
recently ended in 1994 (SouthAfrica.info). However, the conflicts surrounding issues of race
within the country did not end with the apartheid. Racism merely became less blatantly obvious
to the rest of the world, but non-white South Africans still feel the effects of prejudice on a daily
basis. Discrimination can be witnessed in various areas of South African culture, which is
particularly illustrated through an analysis utilizing Hofstedes Cultural Dimensions. This mainly
being displayed by looking at the population of the sample group that the data was collected
from in South Africa. Hofstedes measurements were taken from the white population of South
Africa, even though the majority of the population is black African, and their scores may be
very different from those presented above (Hofstede et al., 2010). Therefore, the data collected
is not representative of South Africa as a culture, instead it is merely representative of white
South Africans. This information regarding the differences between white and non-white cultures
within South Africa becomes important when analyzing the Hofstedes Cultural Dimensions
scores for South Africa.

On the individualism versus collectivism scale, South Africa scored a 65, meaning that
they generally prefer a more individualistic lifestyle. This is prominent when examining white
South African culture. While white South Africans only make up roughly eight percent of
(SouthAfrica.info) the population, they hold the majority of the jobs and are the largest
population of students attending South African universities. There are many reasons for these
facts, just a few being colonialization, the apartheid, income inequality, and government
corruption. However, these factors most likely play a large role in the individualistic culture of
whites in South Africa. White South Africans are encouraged to pursue high-end jobs, attend
prestigious universities, and succeed. This then creates a way of life that encourages
individualistic tendencies, such as putting oneself first, and being taught that they are allowed to
speak their minds.
In comparison, it can be presumed that black South Africans would have a lower score,
instead illustrating a more collectivistic culture. This may stem from various aspect of their
numerous cultures. There is a total of 11 official languages in South Africa, and the majority of
which are made up of blacks (SouthAfrica.info). Each of these subcultures in South Africa have
their own unique traditions and histories that create their culture. For example, in the Xhosa
culture, when a young boy is ready to become a man, he is sent into the bush for several months,
circumcised, and must live in the bush with the elder men until it is time to go back home. If the
boy refuses to take part in this long standing tradition, he will be outcast from the community
and will not be allowed to consider himself a part of the Xhosa people (Bullock, 2015). This
tradition in particular, along with a multitude of others show that black South African culture is
centered around families, traditions, and doing what is best for the community. In addition, mob
justice illustrates how black South Africans often times put people or their communities first over
themselves. Clearly, black South African culture is not represented in the Hofstede Cultural
Dimensions score for South Africa which claims that South Africans have a high preference for
a loosely-knit social framework in which individuals are expected to take care of themselves and
their immediate families only (Hofstede et al., 2010).
Looking at a different element of Hofstedes Cultural Dimensions, South Africa scored a
63 in regards to indulgence versus restraint (Hofstede et al., 2010). Overall, this means that
South African culture prioritizes the enjoyments of life along with a positive attitude. Again,
when looking at the white culture in South Africa compared to the black culture, some

intellectual presumptions that can be made. Whites in South Africa are treated as a higher social
class then other races within the country. This began with colonialization and continued
throughout South African history, resulting in the government being run by whites, economic
favorability towards whites, and ultimately explicit as well as implicit support for whites. It
would make sense for a group of people such as white South Africans to score high on levels of
indulgence because their freedom of speech has never been so limited. They have only
experienced a culture where they are welcome, and if not welcome, seen as more important. In
indulgent cultures, individual happiness is prioritized and leisure time is considered important
(Hofstede et al., 2015).
However, blacks in South Africa are not likely to participate in indulgency, they rather
exhibit behaviors that would illustrate a culture focused on restraint. This can be seen by merely
looking at their past history and using the knowledge that they have not lived in a society that
allows for them to speak as freely as white. And while blacks engage in leisure activities, it
would not appear to be as prominent compared to whites in South Africa due to the fact that
blacks are at a disadvantage to whites with concern to jobs, economic prosperity, and overall
popularity. This would then cause blacks in South Africa to spend less time indulging in leisure
activities and more time working in order to provide for their families and make ends meet. A
good portion of blacks in South Africa live in townships, so living on almost nothing is no
stranger to them. The people that live in townships have a very different definition of happiness
compared to many of the whites in South Africa. Therefore, it is not presumptuous to infer that
many black South Africans would be classified as engaging in a restraint culture.
South Africa is an extremely complex country that consists of extremely complex
cultures. While it is many times assumed that a country shares one, of few, overarching cultures,
in some cases this is not true and can lead to problems when travelling to a country that has a
wide variety of cultures that rank dissimilarly on Hofstedes Cultural Dimensions. By examining
South Africas scores on the individualism versus collectivism dimension and indulgence versus
restraint dimension it is easy to recognize where they might be some limitations to Hofstedes
research. Obviously it can be difficult to obtain measurements from each subculture within a
country in order to determine the countrys overall scores on the different dimensions, however it
seems that there could be more work done into ensuring that the majority culture within a
country is at least represented in some way. One result that has come from analyzing the

differences that may occur between dimensions in comparing black and white South Africans is
learning that there are limitations to Hofstedes research, which is often unavoidable. Hofstedes
research will never be complete because cultures are constantly changing and countries do no
remain the same over decades. However, it is important to recognize that there are in fact
limitations and that his measurements do not tell the whole story of a country. The results of
Hofstedes Cultural Dimensions can be highly valuable when conducting work in another
country in order to effectively communicate with other cultures, but also knowing that there may
be more than one culture encountered on such visit is also highly valuable knowledge when
taken advantage of. People choosing to travel abroad should utilize different sources of
knowledge of a specific country before making generalized conclusions based on Hofstedes
Cultural Dimensions, however helpful they are.

References
Bullock, R. (2015, May 29). Its hard to be a man. Retrieved from
http://magazine.africageographic.com/weekly/issue-48/xhosa-circumcision-ritual-southafrica-its-hard-to-be-a-man/
Hofstede, G., Hofstede, J. G., & Minkov, M. (2010). Cultures and organizations: Software of
the mind (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Livermore, D.A. (2011). The cultural intelligence difference: Master the one skill you cant do
without in todays global economy. New York: AMACOM, American Management
Association.
SouthAfrica.info. (n.d.). Retrieved from
http://www.southafrica.info/about/people/population.htm#groups