South Africa


Situated on the southern tip of the continent, South Africa is one of Africa's wealthiest nations—thanks to its abundant supply of natural resources, well-developed financial and communications sectors and modern infrastructure. Despite its relative economic prosperity however, widespread poverty and violence have plagued the country since the apartheid era.

From 1948 until 1994, a white minority ruled South Africa using the policies of apartheid to separate races and resettle hundreds of thousands of citizens. Although the new government in 1995 and its leader, Nelson Mandela, publicly embraced reconciliation, the painful apartheid legacies of persistent crime and lack of opportunity, along with the new scourge of HIV/AIDS have made social change a slow and difficult process. An estimated 5.7 million people in South Africa are currently living with HIV, and as of 2005 there were nearly 1,000 AIDS-related deaths every single day.

Despite the current government’s attempts to fuel job creation through state subsidies, over 45% of South Africans today live below the poverty line.

Population 53 million
Land area 1.2 million Km2
National languages of instruction Afrikaans, Ndebele, Xhosa, Zulu, Sepedi, Sotho, Setswana, Swati, Venda, Tsonga, English
Launch of operations 2006
Room to Read office Pretoria
Regions where we work Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Gauteng

Educational Landscape

From 1948 to 1994 South Africa's educational system provided a convenient vehicle to enforce the rules of apartheid. Discrepancies existed at every level of the system—in teacher/student ratios, infrastructure, availability of books and required attendance.

The situation was unintentionally exacerbated by the “liberation now, education later” stance taken during the years of anti-apartheid struggle. The culture of learning and reading became stigmatized, and schools became grounds for protest only. Currently, only 14% of South Africa’s black students finish high school, as compared to 65% of their white peers.

In 1995, the newly-elected government under President Mandela initiated a number of policies to improve overall access to education and address the issues of school caliber and racial equality. A few years later, the Minister of Education, authorized a "Call to Action" to ameliorate the poor quality of education by re-distributing teachers among poor-performing schools and instituting an outcome-based curriculum.

Although the program was a moderate success, it had the inadvertent consequence of lowering teaching quality in many schools, and was generally unsuccessful in effecting any widespread change in the quality of primary education.

Access to resources is also a consistent problem in South Africa, with 80% of all state-run schools lacking a library.  Rural schools in particular suffer from overcrowding, poor infrastructure such as collapsed ceilings and broken windows, and lack of non-textbook reading material.

Diversity of language adds another layer to South Africa’s already complex educational system, with the country recognizing 11 official languages.

Programs & Results

In April 2006, South Africa became Room to Read’s first country of operations in Africa. Right away we chose to focus on increasing students’ access to reading material in their native language, launching our flagship School Library program. We also responded to the country’s linguistic diversity by launching our Book Publishing program in Afrikaans, Ndebele, Xhosa, Zulu, Sepedi, Sotho, Setswana, Swati, Venda and Tsonga.

Cumulative results
Libraries established 423
Book titles published 48
School construction projects -
Girls' Education participants -

Results updated annually

Meet our local staff:
Chris Mothupi, Country Director

“Education is essential to allowing the South African people to continue to make informed choices about their future,” says Chris Mothupi, who spent years as a math and science teacher before joining the nonprofit sector. “I saw the need to lay a solid foundation for children to learn so they can excel in all areas of learning,” he says. “That foundation is literacy.”

In his role as country director, Chris says he particularly enjoys forming partnerships with like-minded organizations that can help us boost our impact on his country’s education system.

When he’s not at work, Chris is an avid reader and enjoys playing the guitar.

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Visit a school or library in any of the countries where we work and meet the local team that makes it all possible.

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