Nearly 150,000 pupils are registered at 500 private schools in the country, around 70,000 of them African and 56,000 white. While most of private and church-owned schools are of good quality, many others have been set up recently aimed as much at cashing in on demand as on providing education.
In Gauteng, the country's most densely populated province, the provincial ministry is investigating schools charging high fees but not delivering decent education, and intends shutting those with a bad record. Robinson Ramaite, a ministry spokesman, said: "Some schools charge up to R800 (Pounds 150) a month, but they have a less than 5 per cent matriculation pass rate."
Plans are afoot to bring in reforms which could involve parents in running schools, and require financial records to be published. Currently it is easy to set up a private school: all that is needed is a building, money and students.
The Northern Transvaal government recently closed a private school. Aaron Motsoaledi, the provincial education minister, said the school was a health hazard and had no certificate of registration.
But he met resistance from parents: "I told them I would draw up a list and place their children in schools, but they were angry and told me it was their democratic right to choose where their children should go to school."
Lincoln Mali, the national education ministry spokesman, said the provinces were planning to legislate against fly-by-night schools, not all of which were privately owned. The ministry is setting up a committee to review all types of schools, including private ones. The committee will have to report back to Sibusiso Bengu, the minister of education, by the end of July.