A quarter of a century after South Africa’s transition to democracy, the rhetoric of ‘transformation’ remains firmly ingrained in its higher education policy and discourse. In many of the reviews, reports, proposals, and frameworks on the transformation of the South African university system, one thing stands out: an oversupply of rhetoric and a dearth of empirical data. This article is a direct response to how infrequently data has been used and seeks to reveal the actual quantum of change, albeit with a focus on an admittedly singular element on the transformation spectrum but one which nevertheless preoccupies South Africans: equity (or race). The evidence presented in the paper shows that the absence of a clear articulation of transformation, accompanied by a lack of indicators and targets to track progress over time, hinders the progression of the discourse to equally important dimensions of performance such as efficiency, success and productivity—all of which are critical in determining the university’s role in national development. The paper goes on to show that based on the data available, the public university system in South Africa is transforming given the increases over time in the number of black students and staff. However, without a clearly articulated idea of what constitutes change, one cannot claim a transformed system, and the political narrative of no transformation is likely to prevail.