President Cyril Ramaphosa says the violent protests and looting that broke out in the country recently shook SA's belief in itself as a united nation.
Addressing a virtual Heritage Day event on Friday, Ramaphosa said the country had to ask itself questions about its identity in the aftermath of the violent protests that broke out in KwaZulu-Natal and later spread to Gauteng.
The protests started out as a show of force by former president Jacob Zuma's supporters after he was jailed for 15 months for contempt of court after he defied a Constitutional Court order compelling him to appear at the Zondo commission to answer to allegations of state capture during his presidency.
Protesters then went on a rampage in the two provinces, looting stores, burning buildings and malls.
Over 300 people died, many of them in stampedes, while others were shot dead, particularly in Phoenix in KwaZulu-Natal.
“Our belief in ourselves as a united nation was shaken. We saw people destroying the very country we are trying to build. In the aftermath of the violence, we have had to ask ourselves, who are we as a people? What is it that defines our national character? What is it that defines our identity? What do we stand for?
“This heritage day I would like us to reflect on these very important questions because the values we live by and the principles we stand for define us as much as what we were, the food we eat, the languages we speak, the music we listen to and they also make up our way of life,” said Ramaphosa.
He said the looting and violence, which his government has since characterised as an insurrection, happened while the country had been trying to get back to normal amid the devastating effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on the economy.
“We have been trying to get on with our lives in the midst of a deadly pandemic, we have been slowly rebuilding our economy and we have seen the promising green shoots of recovery.
“Just as we were doing so, we were confronted with the outbreak of terrible violence in some parts of our country. Property, infrastructure and businesses were destroyed. Jobs were lost, many people were injured and a number of them died,” said Ramaphosa.
He said South Africans were honourable people who respected others and their rights and rejected dishonourable conduct.
“As South Africans we share a common cultural value of respect for others, for the elderly, for women, for children, for people's property and belongings. But we also have a deep respect for ourselves individually as South Africans,” said Ramaphosa.