South Africa is not a violent country but there are "elements" that conduct themselves in a shocking manner, says President Jacob Zuma.
Addressing the national house of traditional leaders at Parliament on Thursday, he warned against those who would "rubbish our country without realising".
Noting the recent outrage over incidents of violence, Zuma said in expressing their disgust, people should not paint all South Africans as violent and brutal.
"South Africa is not a violent country – it is certain people in our country who are violent. By and large, we are not – we are peace-loving people." Zuma's remarks came after a spate of protests, crimes and police actions drew huge international attention to violence in South Africa.
These included the shooting of Andries Tatane by police in the Free State in 2011, the killing of 34 miners by police at Marikana in August last year, and the recent arrest of eight police officers implicated in the death of Mido Macia, a taxi driver who was tied to the back of a police vehicle and dragged down a street.
The gang rape and murder of teenager Anene Booysen in Bredasdorp in the Western Cape last month and the arrest of Paralympian and Olympian Oscar Pistorius, who was charged with the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in Gauteng, also contributed to the spotlight being turned on the country.
A report on the BBC's website last week captured international sentiment in its first paragraph: "Few countries endure more violence than South Africa. It is not what South Africans like to hear, and some even deny it. But it is a fact."
'Do not lose faith'
Zuma told traditional leaders that South Africans should "not lose faith in our own humanity and collective ability to correct the wrongs we see in our country", and called on them to help seek solutions.
He said the police were dealing with the symptoms in relation to criminal activities. As far as general crime was concerned, the levels decreased over the years. But crimes against women and children remained high and were of concern. He said the police continued to make inroads.
During the past financial year, over 363 life sentences were secured, with a conviction rate of 73% for crimes against women above the age of 18 and 70% for crimes against people under 18.
"With the support of the community, most suspects in high profile rape and domestic violence cases were arrested.
"I have also directed the justice, crime prevention, and security cluster to implement measures to nip violent protests in the bud ... We are doing this to build a culture of responsibility, accountability, respect for authority and respect for one another," Zuma said.
Turning to farming and agriculture, the president said increasing urbanisation could, in the long-term, pose a threat to South Africa's food security. The national development plan (NDP) indicated that 30 years from now South Africa would be mostly urban.
Rural areas would be abandoned as the youth migrated to the cities in search of greener pastures. Migration to the cities would leave the arable and fertile land lying fallow. Such a prospect would threaten South Africa's food security.
"We are already witnesses to this phenomenon. Many fields lie untilled across the country. The NDP identifies agriculture as an economic activity that is still capable of pushing back the frontiers of poverty.
"This requires traditional leaders to work with government to promote farming to our youth and the rural population," he said.
Years of land deprivation, reinforced by land dispossession laws, deprived generations of people of the skills necessary to survive by working in agriculture.
"People who had been proud farmers were now forced to work [for others] after being dispossessed of their land, livestock and equipment. Working on the farms was thus turned into a form of slavery."
The outcome of this state of affairs over generations was that the youth developed a grim view of agriculture. Those living in rural areas aspired to move out of the villages as soon as they could.
"We need to change the situation. We need to make them appreciate the economic importance and centrality of agriculture. We must encourage them to study agricultural and food production sciences at school and universities."
Zuma said both secondary and tertiary education institutions must respond to this challenge and appropriately channel resources. – Sapa