Where are the black professionals in Cape Town?

The percentage of black African professionals in Cape Town has increased by a mere four percent over the past 10 years according to the Department of Labour.


Valerie Tapela, an MPhil in Coaching Management alumnus of the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB), questions in her research, where the black professionals are in the city, recognising that a city that is not representative of the country demographics will not be economically sustainable.

Her findings echo similar research done in the field, uncovering that the main reason for this slow growth is that professionals, especially black African executives, who migrate to big organisations with complex racial and cultural diversity, feel unwelcome and don’t stick around.

Valerie, a personal Development Facilitator and Researcher who currently assists organisations and individuals in retaining and attracting black African professionals, says organisations in South Africa are transforming towards a diverse staff compliment and many professionals struggle to adapt to these culturally diverse environments. Likewise, companies struggle to hold onto in particular, black African executives.

Valerie Tapela

“Often, disillusioned relocators tell grim tales of how tough the Mother City can be.  The apartheid history of the labour force and its discriminatory effects continue to be a talking point in different circles. There is a sense of ‘otherness’ that black professionals feel when they work and live in Cape Town. The city is seen as stuck in the ways of the Old Work Order, where the environment lacks energy and racial discrimination is still apparent.”

She says there are numerous factors which inhibit the progression of black executives in their career.

“Barriers include lack of experience and limited access to mentorship, the hostility of the environment, negative stereotyping, the sense of isolation, and exclusion from a Eurocentric organisational culture. A common theme found of ‘negative stereotyping’ in which the skills of black professionals to contribute to the workplace are tested, amounted to the unspoken pressure to see whether they have the capability to perform and which they felt their white counterparts are not subjected to.”

Valerie points out that social and racial identity, particularly in post-apartheid South Africa, influences self-categorisation and self-concept.

“Individuals tend to classify themselves and others into social categories and these classifications have a significant effect on human interactions. In SA societal changes are still being dictated by or bound within racial categories. To think that social identity issues in organisations are not there or that they will ever be done away with completely, would be naive.”

Valerie says that it’s important to explore ways to embrace the diversity opportunities in South Africa, especially to improve retention of black talent, but also for organisations to build inclusive and enabling environments where people of all backgrounds experience a sense of belonging, with no one culture dominating the other.

As a resource towards creating inclusive environments at work, Valerie has found in her study done across a number of Human Resource managers and black African professionals who relocated to Cape Town, that coaching can provide the space to make people aware of the multiple identities that they operate under and reflect on how those might be influencing behaviours and choices.

“The main benefit of coaching is that employees gain clarity. Coaching provides employees with the space to think about their new roles as well as their personal contribution to the organisation. It offers those who recently relocated a space to reflect, receiving support through the transition, enjoying an independent mirror reflecting their thoughts back to them, building confidence and gaining alignment professionally and personally.”

She says however that coaching should not be singled out as the only contributor but rather, as part of a collective support offered to the professional. 

“From a holistic point of view the relocating organisation can proactively assist by providing support to individuals to not only network with other industry related professionals but also encourage these professionals to engage with groups suited to their personal interests.”

Valerie suggests the following practical tips for organisations, coaches and individuals: 


1. Plan it

Don’t be reactive. Individuals should plan the coaching process strategically to facilitate their relocation and adjustment process. Put social adjustment on the coaching agenda


2. Develop sensitivity and awareness

Coaches should assist organisations in developing cultural sensitivity and cultural intelligence. Constructing actual Strategies and actions for how to navigate differences.


3. Who am I?

Coaches – as well as leaders in organisations – need to reflect on their own social and racial identity to expand their own awareness, creating a safe space for individuals to reflect deeply and to arrive into an environment of belonging and culturally intelligent teams.


4. Talk about it

Sensitise staff and managers within the relocating organisation of the cross-cultural complexities and diversity factors to encourage issues to be named.


5. Ask for help

Professionals need to take full ownership of the coaching process and request support before the actual relocation.


6. Lead from within

Professionals need to plan how to develop their own unique leadership style which will reflect their own cultural strengths and cultural capital. They also need to incorporate other cultures’ successes into their own leadership style while staying true to who they are.