Desk of the president | 22 Jan 2024

Monday, 22 January 2024

Dear Fellow South African,  
The class of 2023 has made our nation proud.  
The matric results released last week showed an 82.9% pass rate for the cohort of matriculants who sat the National Senior Certificate (NSC) exam last year. This is the highest pass rate obtained since the NSC was introduced in 2008 and is a stellar achievement.  
The matric exam pass rate has been consistently improving over the past decade, from 78% ten years ago to 80% in 2022. A new record has now been set by the class of 2023. We have high expectations from the young South Africans who hope to sit the exam this year. The accomplishments of their predecessors should encourage them to set their sights even higher.  
This year marks 30 years since South Africa became a democracy with equal rights, dignity and freedoms for all.  The achievements of last year’s matriculants show the progress we have made not only in making education more accessible, but also in making it more equal.
By 2010, South Africa had attained the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education. Since then we have made steady progress in improving secondary school and post-school outcomes.  
Education is about so much more than personal betterment or obtaining a qualification to seek gainful employment. It is a ladder out of poverty.  
In a country such as ours, universal access to education is by far the most impactful intervention in breaking the cycle of inter-generational poverty. It is our most effective weapon to overcome the effects of centuries of racism, discrimination and marginalisation of the black majority.  
To support young people on their learning journey and increase their prospects of completing school, the democratic state provides various forms of social protection to cushion vulnerable and indigent learners from the worst effects of poverty.  
These interventions include, among others, Early Childhood Development, social grants, a nationwide school nutrition programme, and no-fee schools.  
Government continues to invest heavily in improving school infrastructure, including school sanitation, and in the provision of teacher and learner support materials to schools in poor districts. To enable eligible young people from poor families to further their studies, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme funds the costs of their education.  
While we are proud of all our matriculants, we are particularly proud of the young people who have succeeded in the face of great hardship and adversity.  
Included in the cohort of successful matriculants from last year are young people with disabilities, child care grant beneficiaries, learners from child-headed households, orphans, from informal settlements and from some of the poorest districts in the country.  
Of the 110 top performing learners in last year’s NSC exam, 62 were social grant beneficiaries. In 2023, matriculants who receive some form of social grant together achieved more than 160,000 distinctions, and more than 200,000 qualified for university entrance.  
Learners from no-fee paying schools constituted more than 65% of the total bachelor passes obtained. Three of the country’s most rural provinces – Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo – contributed 59% of total passes with distinction.  
Of those who have now completed their secondary education, some will go on to further their studies and others will seek employment. I encourage all of society to reward the achievements of the many young people who have successfully passed secondary school by making more opportunities available to them.  
As government we have made the call for businesses to invest in our nation’s future by employing more young people, and, where possible, to do away with the requirement of prior work experience.  
I encourage companies to use the Employee Tax Incentive to hire more young job-seekers, to make more training and mentorship opportunities available, and to sign up with the Youth Employment Service and other initiatives being rolled out in partnership with government.  
For the many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who passed matric this year, being given an opportunity to work or to study further is a way out of poverty. Let us give them hope. Let us give them a chance.  
As a country, we have laid the important groundwork for equitable access to education and ensured that young people are supported to finish school.  
It is now up to all of society to work together to ensure that every South African, young and old, is lifted out of poverty, given access to decent work and an opportunity to fulfil their true potential.  
With best regards,