Blame is disputed in exam shocker
The pass rate for "matric", as the exams are known, fell from 54.7 per cent in 1996 to 47.1 per cent last year.
Critics blame the government, and especially the provinces, for leaving crucial management posts vacant, mismanagement, and failing to deliver books and other basic needs to schools.
There is a correlation between poor conditions and poor performance. Two of the provinces that scored the lowest marks - Northern Province at 31.8 per cent and Eastern Cape at 45.4 per cent - were identified by last year's School Register of Needs as suffering the worst conditions in schools.
But Sibusiso Bengu, the education minister, said no single factor could account for the poor performance. He stressed that the current crop of senior pupils began school during the politically turbulent mid-1980s, when learning in many black schools ground to a halt.
He also said that the requirement for success in the matric was raised last year - oral, practical and year marks were taken into account - which could account for much of the decline.