South Africa Country Report: Overview

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We wanted to understand how the aims of the Effective Education for Employment project tallied with the views of key educational and economic stakeholders in South Africa, so we went there to meet them. This section is the fruit of that labour and provides some background on the factors which have influenced economic development within South Africa as well as a description of some of the most recent influential changes in educational policy and practice. It will help you understand the importance of some of the critical educational issues identified within the country as well as some conclusions on what changes need to be made.

The Economy

South Africa is a country of sharp contrasts. While it is the African continent's pre-eminent economic superpower, with an industrialised economy that rivals other developed nations, it also struggles with huge poverty and exhibits many of the characteristics of a developing nation.

The economy has seen consistent growth over the last 10 years, with finance, manufacturing and tourism being particularly strong sectors. However, around a quarter of South Africans are unemployed and economic growth has not resulted in a significant rise in employment opportunities.


The Workforce

There is also huge contrast in the make-up of the population. There are 11 officially recognised languages, a mix of religious and tribal beliefs and the most ethnically diverse population in Africa.

Significant opportunities have been created for many South Africans with the end of apartheid and the emergence of democratic rule. The right to a good education and the chance to compete for jobs has inevitably transformed the employment landscape. But apartheid has left a significant legacy in terms of the attitude and self-belief many black South Africans bring to the workplace. The freedom to work and to fulfil ambition is something that is not always easy for black South Africans to embrace. There is a strong belief that this is changing among younger South Africans who have grown up in the post-apartheid era but the impact is still deep and wide-reaching.



The South African government has articulated a clear vision for the future of South Africa, which involves sustained economic growth, a fairer distribution of wealth and education and employment for all. To achieve this, it is clear that education programmes must develop the right skills, knowledge and behaviours to support businesses and society as a whole.


Professional Education

Some significant steps have been made. Investment has been poured into the schools system and a number of administrative bodies have been established to address the specific professional education needs of the burgeoning South African economy, following significant strategic development work in the early 1990s.

One of the main bodies is the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA), whose primary objectives are to oversee the development of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) and ensure that it is implemented and its standards are maintained. The SAQA defines the framework as 'a set of principles and guidelines which provide a vision, a philosophical base and an organisational structure for construction of a qualifications system'.

Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) were set up in 2000 to support the work of the SAQA. 27 SETAs cover all work sectors in South Africa and their role is described in the following way:

'Within its own sector, a SETA must develop and implement a skills development plan, be responsible for quality control and pay out development grants.'

Relatively speaking, these initiatives are still being established and it is difficult to assess success accurately. But there is no doubt there is a widespread political commitment to education and skills development, driven by economic and social motives. Perhaps this is the start of a positive long-term infrastructure to deliver a better-skilled workforce that is able to grow and sustain South Africa's economy.