South Africa

South Africa is a leading African country in terms of Open Access (OA) policies on the governmental level and grass-roots OA initiatives in universities and research organizations.

As of June 2015, there are 30 OA repositories registered in OpenDOAR. This includes 11 traditional universities (or at least their departments), several universities of technology (Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Durban University of Technology, Central University of Technology and Tshwane University of Technology), three comprehensive universities (University of Johannesburg, University of South Africa and University of Zululand) and Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

As of June 2015, there are seven OA policies registered in ROARMAP (six institutional, one funder), three institutional OA policies registered in the MELIBEA database and 1 funders' OA mandate registered in the SHERPA/JULIET database.  This corresponds to the University of Pretoria and the University of Johannesburg which have adopted OA policies (mandates) to ensure that results of researches funded by institutions are made freely available. The funders' OA mandate corresponds to the National Research Foundation of South Africa which has both a publications policy and a data archiving policy in place.

Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) manages the Scientific Electronic Library Online (SciELO) SA – a premier OA searchable full-text journal database that covers a selected collection of peer-reviewed scholarly journals implementing recommendations from its Report on a Strategic Approach to Research Publishing in South Africa. SciELO SA is funded by the South African Department of Science and Technology and endorsed by the South African Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). South Africa joined SciELO in 2009. A pilot site for SciELO SA, initially on the SciELO Brazil site was established and has been live since 1 June, 2009. In April 2012, the SciELO SA team started hosting the site independently. In April 2013, the collection was certified to become part of the SciELO Network Global Portal which feeds into the Web of Knowledge portal.

As of June 2015, there are 72 OA journals are registered in DOAJ.

The Human Sciences Research Council Press has a dual-stream strategy including: OA full texts online and print copies for sale. A groundbreaking ASSAf’s report entitled Scholarly Books: their production, use and evaluation in South Africa today approved by DHET recommends that “the principle of maximising OA, already recommended by the Academy for scholarly journals, be extended as far as possible (and with careful attention to sustainable business models) to books published (or co-published) in South Africa, with the adoption of formats and technology platforms compatible with bibliometric requirements such as citation indexing and information rich online features.”

And a strong OA community of practice has grown up sharing knowledge and expertise in the country, on African continent and worldwide.

Enabling Environment:

The first conference that introduced OA model in South Africa “Open Access Scholarly Communications” took place in July 2004, co-hosted by EIFL/OSI (Open Society Institute) and SASLI (South African Site Licensing Initiative), now SANLiC (South African National Library and Information Consortium). Attended by delegates from research and tertiary institutions, scientific councils, libraries and museums, it set the wheels in motion for a follow up event that captured the momentum and responded to requests on how to put the ideas into practice.

Sivulile, meaning "We are Open" in isiXhosa, was an informal group that came together in 2005 to support OA developments in South Africa through advocacy, policy, technology and research.

Consequently the first Institutional Repository (IR) workshop in South Africa took place in May 2005. It was a three-day event organised by SASLI and CSIR/CILLA with support from EIFL, that provided hands-on training on setting up and managing an IR. Participants returned home with a good understanding of technical and policy issues for IRs, installing DSpace, the popular open source IR application and the promotion of IRs within an institution.

The third key event was co-sponsored by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) and aimed to broaden awareness of OA in the region. Speakers from Botswana, Canada, Egypt, Scotland, South Africa and the US were joined by over forty participants from nine southern African countries at the OSISA/EIFL Open Access Workshop for Southern Africa in August 2006 to discuss practical ways in which OA projects and policies could be implemented in the region. The programme focused on OA journals, IRs, advocacy and the role of funding agencies in OA publishing.

Potential Barriers:

OA is still not a part of daily research practices of researchers and research administrators

Researchers usually do not have time to self-archive and self-archiving does not fit in with their research workflows. They still need to be convinced of the OA benefits, perceive repositories in conflict with their publishers, there is a confusion regarding post-print versions and post-prints are not seen as an authoritative versions. OA practices are not rewarded in institutional promotion and reward policies. And reward system for development oriented research (research reports and not peer-reviewed articles) is not in place at all.

Institutional capacities

Some organizations still lack capacities to make research results OA – they lack IT support and infrastructure. Non-digital born materials need to be digitized and there are always issues with funding for digitization.

Copyright, publishers' restrictions and embargoes

OA refers to the unrestricted online access to articles published in scholarly journals, books or monographs. The challenges remain for repository managers on how to handle copyright, publishers restrictions and limitations and embargoes. Self-archiving clauses are not included in national licenses for access to e-resources and IR managers have to clear rights for every deposited item. And many South African publishers do not have self-archiving policies.

Article processing charges

Article processing charges (as one of the business models of OA publishing) are definitely not the way to go for authors in South Africa but institutional membership programmes might be a better solution.

Major Projects/Initiatives:

Browse 30 OA repositories in the Directory of OA Repositories (OpenDOAR).

University of Pretoria and Stellenbosch University host the largest IR collections in the country: UPSpace (13,846 records) + University of Pretoria Electronic Theses and Dissertations (UPeTD: 6,592 records); and SUNScholar Repository (14,021 records).

Stellenbosch University has set up an IR wiki  – a useful resource of best practice recommendations for repository managers.

UPeTD celebrated its first decade in 2010. The Ranking Web of World Repositories which was released in July 2011 ranked UPeTD at number 162 in terms of content, size and visibility – the first repository in Africa. According to webalizer which keeps track of the UPeTD statistcs, UPeTD has received 25342724 hits for the past year (September 2010 to August 2011) and regular messages from thankful users testify to the usefulness of the repository. See the description of implementation process in UPeTD Celebrates 10 Years of Success.

Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) manages SciELO SA – a premier OA searchable full-text journal database that covers a selected collection of peer-reviewed scholarly journals (journals are considered for inclusion when they have received a favourable evaluation from ASSAf’s journal quality peer-review panel (20 journals and growing). It is an integral part of a project being developed by FAPESP - Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo, in partnership with BIREME - the Latin American and Caribbean Center on Health Sciences Information. ASSAf also hosts TWAS (the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World)-OWSDW (Organization of Women Scientists for Developing World) Thesis Repository.

National Research Foundation set up a national portal for South African theses and dissertations in collaboration with the Committee of Higher Education Librarians of South Africa (CHELSA).

The Open Medicine Project South Africa (TOMPSA): Through the Open Medicine Project, important medical information is made freely and easily accessible to doctors, nurses, paramedics and all health workers at the point of care. Other linkages with IT systems are also welcomed to share vital content through websites and apps using open-source API's (Application Programming Interfaces).

National and Institutional Level Policies/Mandates:

The University of Pretoria (UP) implemented UPeTD in 2000 and since 2004 it has been mandatory for students to submit an e-copy of theses/dissertation to the repository before graduation. And in May 2009 UP became the first African institution with an OA mandate when university senate adopted a policy for mandatory submission of research papers by its staff, students and other affiliates. The Open Scholarship Office took responsibility for implementing it and provides support to the Department for Research and Innovation on the Research Report. See more details about the UP Open Scholarship Programme, check the UP Open Access Scorecard and read UP OA Mandate: The first African OA institutional mandate story.

The University of Johannesburg (UJ) senate adopted an OA mandate in 2010 that states that: “UJ wishes to provide OA to publicly funded research output produced by UJ students and staff. Research output submitted to the Research Office for subsidy purposes will be forwarded to the UJ institutional repository. UJLIC will seek permission to preserve research output in digital format. Copyright compliance will be adhered to i.e. access to full-text articles will be subject to permission of publishers. UJ encourages the publication of research articles in accredited OA journals.

Since 2009 it has been mandatory for students of Stellenbosch University to submit an e-copy of theses/dissertation to the repository before graduation. On Wednesday 20 October 2010, Prof Russel Botman, signed the Berlin Declaration on OAs to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities. As a signatory, university commits itself to:

  • implementing a policy that encourages researchers to deposit a copy of all their published articles in the OA repository;
  • encouraging researchers to publish their research articles in OA journals where a suitable journal exists and provide the support to enable that to happen.

South African members of EUR-OCEANS Council are compliant with its OA mandate adopted in October 2010.

BioMed Central – an STM publisher which has pioneered the OA publishing model – lists South African Medical Research Council as a funding agency that explicitly allows direct use of their grants to cover article-processing charges for publications in OA journals.

Details of Key Organizations:

"IRSpace" is an informal community of those who are interested in advancing the case of OA and IRs in South Africa and Africa. Communication channel: Irtalk discussion list (Irtalk(at) and DSpace/ Duraspace discussion list.

IRSpace – Search South African & African research repositories: is an IR harvester for African research institutions.

The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) was inaugurated in May 1996. Its Scholarly Publishing Programme enhances the national capacity to produce and publish research, increases the quality and quantity of research and implements recommendations from the Report on a Strategic Approach to Research publishing in South Africa. Contact: Susan Veldsman, Director: Scholarly Publishing Unit, Tel.: +27 12 349 6611, Fax: +27 (0) 86 576 9525, susan(at), PO Box 72135, Lynnwood Ridge 0040, Pretoria.

AOSIS OpenJournals (since 1998) is a publisher of OA peer-reviewed scientific journals covering a range of academic disciplines from the African continent and beyond. All scholarly journals (11 journals) are published under the CC BY 3.0 Unported License. And additional 11 journals are hosted by AOSIS OpenJournals under a CC BY NC ND 2.5 SA License. Watch the video with the founder professor Pierre de Villiers. Contact: Pierre de Villiers, +27219752602/+27219754635, pierre(at), Postnet Suite #55, Private Bag X22, Tygervalley, Bellville, 7536.

Health and Medical Publications Group (HMPG), a wholly owned subsidiary of the South African Medical Association, publishes 13 OA medical journals under a CC BY NC License. Contact details.

The Human Sciences Research Council Press is an OA publisher committed to the dissemination of high quality social science research based publications. The Press has a dual-stream strategy with OA full texts online and print copies for sale. Contact: Jeremy Wightman, Publishing Director, Tel: + 27 (0) 21 466 8026, Fax: + 27 (0) 21 461 0836, jrwightman(at), Pleinpark Building, Cape Town, 8000.

African Journals OnLine (AJOL) – an online service to provide access to African-published research – was initiated in May 1998 as a pilot project managed by the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publication (INASP). In 2005, AJOL moved to African management and is now a not-for-profit company based in South Africa. 112 journals (out of 41) are OA. Contact: Susan Murray, AJOL Director, Tel.: +27 (0)46 622 8058, Fax: +27865625626, susan(at), PO Box 420, Grahamstown, 6140.

Past and Future OA Related Activities:

A groundbreaking ASSAf’s report on Scholarly Books: their production, use and evaluation in South Africa today approved by DHET recommends that “the principle of maximising OA, already recommended by the Academy for scholarly journals, be extended as far as possible (and with careful attention to sustainable business models) to books published (or co-published) in South Africa, with the adoption of formats and technology platforms compatible with bibliometric requirements such as citation indexing and information rich online features.”

The Southern African Regional Universities' Association, representing 64 universities in sub-Saharan Africa, released a research report on Opening Access to Knowledge in Southern Africa, which recommended OA as a potential strategy for the region.

The University of Cape Town launched the Open Content initiative in February 2010, which allows easy, free online access to a selection of UCT teaching and learning resources, as a first step towards developing OpenUCT, a far-reaching initiative to make a range of UCT's knowledge resources, including research, available to anyone with internet access. UCT has joined the international OpenCourseWare Consortium, a collaboration of more than 200 organisations around the world using a shared model to create a body of open educational resources (OERs). Funded by the Shuttleworth Foundation and developed as part of the OER Project in the Centre for Educational Technology (CET), the directory showcases UCT's collection of OERs (From UCT news). One of the success stories of openness: an OER (Occupation Focused Conceptual Frameworks module focused on occupational therapy practice and theories) shared by Matumo Ramafikeng, a teacher at UCT, had been discovered by editors of a Journal of Occupational Therapy of Galicia who worked with the creator of the resource to turn it into a journal article translated into Spanish and published in the September 2010 edition of the journal (based on Amazing Open Content Story from Cape Town and From UCT OpenContent to a Journal Article).

Other OA related events in South Africa:

  • 13-15, March, 2014: "The ANFASA Conference" held in Boksburg, South Africa.
  • International Open Access Week
    • 27 November, 2014: Conference "From Universal Green Open Access to Open Science", Capetown, South Africa.
    • 29 September- 01 October, 2014: "Law via the Internet (LVI) Conference". Every year the Free Access to Law Movement holds the LVI conference that brings together individuals and institutions from all over the world who share the belief that public legal information is the common heritage of humankind and that such information should be made available free of charge and free from any restrictions on it use and re-use.
    • 6-8 November, 2012: "Berlin 10 Open Access Conference" held in Stellenbosch, South Africa. This was collaboratively hosted by Stellenbosch university, in partnership with the Max Planck Society , UNESCO, the World Bank, the Association of African Universities and the Academy of Science for South Africa. The conference explored the transformative impact that open, online access to research can have on scholarship, scientific discovery and the translation of results to the benefit of the public.
    • 4 November, 2012: Open Access Africa 2012 was held in the University of Capetown, hosted by BioMed Central. This brought together researchers, librarians, university administrators, funders and other key decision makers to discuss the benefits of Open Access publishing in the African continent.
    • 27 October, 2011: Open Access event at the University of Pretoria. The program included:
      • The symbolic signing of the Berlin Declaration on Open Access in the Sciences and Humanities by the Univ. of Pretoria executive.
      • A presentation by Susan Veldsman, director of ASSAF Scholarly publishing unit in Pretoria, on "Scholarly journals: what are we going to do and how?".
      • The official launching of three Open Access journals.
      • The presentation of the Sparky Award to winner Josua Goodman from the Dept. of Information Science.
    •  21 October, 2010: Presentation "Open Up Your Research With the Creative Commons License" by Dr. Tobias Schonwetter, legal head of Creative Commons South Africa. 


  1. September/ October 2014: "Open Access in South Africa: A Case Study and Reflections" by Laura Czerniewicz and Sarah Goodier published in the South African Journal of Science (Vol 110, No. 9/10).
  2. 15 October 2014: "Open Access Publishing in South Africa- 2014" by Pierre JT de Villiers.
  3. 03 December, 2014: "Open Access South Africa: Starting a Student Network" published in blog .
  4. February 2004: "Open Access Research and the Public Domain in South African Universities: The Public Knowledge Project's Open Journal Systems" by Sal Muthayan. 



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