In this paper we critically examine the research landscape in South Africa. We do this by documenting the progression and transformation of the country’s National Research Foundation (NRF)-rated researchers from 2005 to 2015. Results indicate that most NRF-rated researchers in South Africa are white and male but this trend is slowly changing with black Africans increasingly becoming rated. Significantly, the data indicate a clustering at the C-rating category and a paucity of black Africans at the highest A- and B-rating category. Explanations for the results are provided and future trends are discussed in the context of the recent dramatic scale-back of the Incentive Funding for Rated Researchers Programme (IFRRP) – an NRF programme which provided guaranteed funding annually to NRF-rated researchers for the duration of their rating (usually five years). The consequences of the withdrawal of this vital funding lifeline is unpacked in the context of an increasingly competitive global research environment.