The paper examines the change in volume of South African publications as indexed to the Web of Science over the periods 1990–1994 and 2004–2008. It was noted that publication volumes have increased sharply even while the stock of researchers has remained static. A number of factors may account for the rise including the increase in the Department of Education publication subsidy, the increase in the number of South African journals indexed to the Web of Science and a shift in focus to fields with higher publication propensity. For example, it was noted that a new growth area has emerged in the field of infectious diseases. The publication count by author institution showed that collaboration with foreign authors has increased considerably across the two periods and it is suggested that it is this factor that best accounts for the rise in volume. The concentration by subject area permitted some judgement to be made regarding the prospects for the five grand challenges of the Ten Year Innovation Plan. Lastly, it was noted that if it is collaboration that is driving the volume increase, the system is vulnerable to offshore changes.