The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry's (SACCI) monthly business confidence index (BCI) dipped slightly to 85.7 in September from 85.8 in August -- which was a recovery from the July figure of 82.8.
The measure of the business climate in 2020 remained well below the 2019 average, at 84.3 index points compared to an average of 92.6 in the first nine months of last year.
Authors of the survey said this was below the average of 113 in 2009, suggesting the COVID-19 impact on business and the economy was worse than that of the 2007/08 global recession.
"It appears that the management of the Covid-19 pandemic by (the government) had a relatively successful impact on managing the health pandemic and ensuring mortality rates were much lower than originally forecast," SACCI said in a statement.
"The economy however took the pain given rising unemployment, business closures and the GDP decline."
In late march South Africa imposed tight controls on business activity, travel and social gathering, allowing only essential services and a few sectors of the economy to operate at limited capacity.
This dragged growth to its worst contraction in the second quarter, and cost the economy over 2 million jobs.
Since June, the measures have been gradually eased, and now sit at the lowest alert level, while international borders were opened this month.
(Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana; Editing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo)