South Africa participated in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study and mathematics and science tests were administered to Grade 7, 8 and 12 students. This article concentrates on the performance of the Grade 12 students and explores the relationship between the students’ background and their mathematics literacy. The first part of the article provides some background information on the South African context and the TIMSS project in South Africa. The overall results are given together with some item-level analysis. Thereafter, the relationship between the students’ background variables and their performance is explored and the methodology used in conducting this analysis is elucidated. Finally, the discussion section centres on the implications of these results for South Africa.