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South Africa’s bold and unique experiment in CSR practice

Gary Malcolm Mersham (Department of Communication, The Open Polytechnic, Lower Hutt, New Zealand)
Chris Skinner (Department of Information Systems and Technology, University of Kwazulu Natal, Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa)

Society and Business Review

ISSN: 1746-5680

Article publication date: 11 July 2016



The purpose of this study is to describe the current practice of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in South Africa, its linkage to corporate social investment (CSI), the impact of new Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) legislation and the contribution that South African public relations practice can have on the development challenges facing the continent of Africa.


Empirical data and reports drawn from various industry and evaluative sources is interpreted in the context of key contemporary elements of practice. The last part of the article provides a theoretical discussion of the public relations role as a “change” agent in South Africa and for the continent of Africa as a whole.


The South African Government’s prescriptive stance on transformation and BEE has thrust the reconsideration of CSR onto every corporate agenda in South Africa. With set targets and expenditure requirements, CSI has become a performance-driven pursuit among businesses seeking to improve their overall BEE scores. At the Pan-African level, a generic model of African public relations with a strong developmental focus is required for the education and training of public relations professionals.

Research limitations/implications

African public relations practice challenges accepted normative approaches in the conceptualisation of a sustainable new global model of the profession. More research will be needed to show how the African humanist approach might impact on the debate about the political, social and economic relevance of the profession in society and the reputation of the profession worldwide.


This study provides historical context for recent developments in public relations in South Africa, providing insights into the direction of the development of public relations practice in Africa.



This article is a republication made available for the anniversary issue of SBR. The original article was published in Society and Business Review, Vol. 3 Iss: 3, pp. 239-255 and can be found online at:


Mersham, G.M. and Skinner, C. (2016), "South Africa’s bold and unique experiment in CSR practice", Society and Business Review, Vol. 11 No. 2, pp. 110-129.



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