In regional context, South African students benefit from above average levels of public and private education resources. However, their performance on international tests – including SACMEQII (Southern African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality, 2000) – is extremely weak. The first part of the paper positions South Africa within southern and eastern Africa on the basis of SACMEQII Grade 6 mathematics test scores. Hierarchical linear modelling techniques are then employed to model the relationship between socio-economic status (SES) and schooling in this highly unequal country. Three important drivers of inequity in test scores emerge: principal concern with monitoring student progress, teacher absenteeism and teacher quality. These interact with SES to give richer students a strong advantage.