South Africa seems to have abounded the global standards of carrying a passport. And internationally it is not regarded as safe. Whereas other countries constantly improve the security features of its passports, SA seems to have given up completely.
The entire drama started in July 2009, when suddenly the United Kingdom required South Africans to apply for visas, mostly as a result of terrorism fears. Most importantly, that terrorists could obtain passports which allow them to travel into Europe.
And there are 2 elements to it, the passport itself as well as the control over its production system. Apparently many blank passports simply disappeared at the government printers.
Things have since improved, but not yet to the extend that South Africans can travel without having to apply for a visa in order to enter the UK and Europe. Effectively a visa is another (upfront) passport verification process.