Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has announced that 73.9% of grade 12 learners passed the National Senior Certificate exams.
The pass rate marks a 3.7 percentage point increase in the number of pupils who passed the NSC compared to 2011, it was announced in Johannesburg on Wednesday.
"We are beginning to reap the rewards of gradual improvement int he quality of education we are providing," Motshegka said at the briefing.
Gauteng garnered the highest provincial increase in matric pass rates, increasing from 81.1% in 2011 to 83.9% in 2012.
The Northern Cape registered the highest provincial pass rate increase, surging by 5.8 percentage points from 68.8% to 74.6%.
Although enjoying a marginal increase in their pass rate from 58.1% to 61.6% in 2012, the Eastern Cape earned the lowest pass rate in the country.
The Western Cape was the only province to show a decrease in results, a marginal drop from 82.9% in 2011 to 82.8% in 2012.
National grade 12 mathematics and physical science results also marked an encouraging increase in comparison to 2011.
Mathematics pass rates nationally were 54%, up from 46.3% and physical science rose to 61.3% from 53.4%
The 2012 matric results also saw a 2.3 percentage point increase in learners obtaining a university exemption, from 24.3% to 26.6%.
"I can assure South Africans it is much more difficult to pass matric now than it was during the old system of apartheid and it is only getting better," said Motshekga.
The results come after an extremely trying year for education in South Africa in 2012. Motshekga released the Annual National Assessment results in early December, revealing shocking facts for South African education.
It showed that grade nine had performed poorly in maths, scoring an average mark of just 13%.
According to the results, grade three literacy rates stood at 52% and numeracy at 41%.
Limpopo was also plagued by the non-delivery of textbooks to thousands of grade three, six, nine and 10 pupils.
"Indeed 2012 was a year and half – just ask me about it," Motshekga said. "We are ready for 2013 – more than we have ever been before. We will continue to improve."