About 70.2% of matrics have passed last year's exams. The overall pass rate was up from 67.8% in 2010, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced in Pretoria on Wednesday.
The Western Cape achieved the country's top pass rate.
There were 496 090 full-time pupils who wrote the 2011 National Senior Certificate - some 41 443 fewer than in 2011. There were about 80 000 part-time pupils who wrote the examinations.
Motshekga said that in 2011 there were no incidents, such as exam paper leaks, that had jeopardised the exams.
The Western Cape was the top province with a pass rate of 82.9% - up from 76.8% in 2010.
Gauteng was next with a pass rate of 81.1% followed by the Northwest Province with a 77.8% pass rate and the Free State with a 75.7% pass rate.
Motshekga was happy with the results, but said much still needed to be done to improve the maths pass rates.
The Democratic Alliance congratulated matrics especially those in the Western Cape who achieved a national high.
President Zuma says ‘pass rate a positive step’
President Jacob Zuma hailed the improved 2011 matric pass rate on Wednesday as a "step in the right direction".
"Zuma wishes to congratulate all the matrics who sat for their National Senior Certificate exams in 2011," his spokesperson Mac Maharaj said in a statement.
"[He] has hailed the ascending pass rate as a step in the right direction."
24.3% of matrics who passed obtained university entrance.
In 2009, 60.7% of matrics passed the 2009 exams. In 2008, 62.5% of matrics passed.
"We would also like to draw special attention to those matriculants who, even though faced with adverse learning conditions, performed exceptionally well," Zuma was quoted as saying.
"You have demonstrated not only to your peers but to the rest of the country that your circumstances do not determine what you can and cannot do. We wish you well in your future plans."
Zuma sent his well wishes to those who did not pass, saying they should persevere in their second attempt.
Darul Ihsan Media Desk