Inadequate data and apartheid policies have meant that, until recently, most demographers have not had the opportunity to investigate the level of, and trend in, the fertility of South African women. The 1996 South Africa Census and the 1998 Demographic and Health Survey provide the first widely available and nationally representative demographic data on South Africa since 1970. Using these data, this paper describes the South African fertility decline from 1955 to 1996. Having identified and adjusted for several errors in the 1996 Census data, the paper argues that total fertility at that time was 3.2 children per woman nationally, and 3.5 children per woman for African South Africans. These levels are lower than in any other sub-Saharan African country. We show also that fertility in South Africa has been falling since the 1960s. Thus, fertility transition predates the establishment of a family planning programme in the country in 1974.