South Africa's President Jacob Zuma: We are a peaceful nation (Reuters)

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma has rebuffed growing accusations that South Africa is a violent country after a number of high-profile crimes threw the "Rainbow Nation" under the global spotlight.

Zuma said the majority of South Africans were "peaceful, caring, law-abiding citizens".

"We should be careful not to rubbish our country by painting all South Africans as violent and brutal," he said at the opening of the National House of Traditional Leaders in Cape Town.

His comments came after a recent wave of violent incidents put South Africa under scrutiny. These incidents included cameraphone footage of taxi driver Mido Macia dying after he was handcuffed to a police van and dragged along the road for 500 yards by officers and the killing of Reeva Steenkamp, the girlfriend of Paralympian Oscar Pistorius. Last August, police shot dead 34 striking miners at the Marikana platinum mine.

At a memorial service for Macia, the activist Graca Machel, who is also is the wife of Nelson Mandela, warned that South Africa was an angry nation "teetering on the brink of something very dangerous".

"We have to be more cautious about how we deal with a society that is bleeding and breathing pain," she said.

Zuma noted that the apartheid system that ended with South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994 had been sustained through violence and there were repercussions from that.

"For that reason, our struggle became deliberately a struggle to eliminate all forms of violence. It was a struggle to achieve a peaceful, caring, stable society," he maintained.

"People have a right to protest, but there is no need to use violence to get the message across."

He added that crimes against women and children remained unacceptably high.

Machel's comments are likely to have a strong impact on the ruling African National Congress, which has run South Africa since the end of apartheid. Prominent figures such as Archibishop Desmond Tutu have already attacked the party's leadership over widespread violence and corruption.