A scientometric analysis of selected research priority areas in South Africa was
done using the Web of Science database for a period 2002 - 2012. The performance of the
country in the areas of biotechnology, energy, astronomy and palaeontology in terms of the
publication output in these areas is compared using two classic scientometric indicators, the
activity and attractivity indices. These are important priority areas as highlighted in various
government policy documents and the aim was to identify if outputs in these field are
corresponding with government policy. The study also identifies leading institutions in the
country in terms of publication output while the performance is also benchmarked against
that of the other BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) group of countries as well as Egypt.
It is found that the country is doing relatively well in research areas in which it enjoys
geographical advantage such as astronomy and palaeontology and compares favourably with
comparator countries in all areas reviewed. In terms of the institutional profile and based on
publication outputs over the period considered, the University of Cape Town is a leader in
biotechnology and energy, University of the Witwatersrand in palaeontology and the National
Research Foundation in the area of astronomy.