The quality and quantity of research publications are used as benchmarks to monitor the performance of South Africa's national system of innovation. The indicators are pertinent to the policies of the Department of Education, which distributes funds for research at institutions of higher education by measuring the volume of research outputs. In this article, we present a scientometric assessment of research in South Africa in the context of the rest of Africa and in comparison with Brazil and India - two countries with which South Africa aims to develop strong scientific ties. We find that South Africa has published a significant number of papers in all 22 disciplines represented in the ISI's Essential Science Indicators. The largest numbers of journal articles in a 10-year period (1996-2005) were published in the categories Clinical Medicine, and in Plant and Animal Sciences, with over 7000 papers each. Three groupings, namely, Chemistry, Geosciences, and Environmental / Ecology, form the second cluster of disciplines in terms of the highest number of publications (2966, 2488 and 2386, respectively). In all 22 subject categories, India and Brazil are rated higher than South Africa in terms of number of publications, but South Africa is ranked above these countries in relation to citations per paper in all disciplines. Egypt outranked South Africa in three disciplines in the period 1995-2004, namely, Chemistry, Engineering, and Materials Science, as did Nigeria in Agriculture in 1996-2005. In addition to the three disciplines in the earlier period, Egypt outranked South Africa in 1996-2005 in Physics, Agricultural Sciences, and Pharmacology / Toxicology. However, South Africa scored higher than both African countries in all disciplines in terms of citations per paper.