Speaking during the commemoration of Youth Day in Soweto, he said violent community protests are threatening to destroy the social fabric of society.
“There can be no justification for such violence in a country where unlike in June 1976, we have access to government at three spheres to communicate our grievances peacefully.
“We should remember that not a single school was burned during the June 16, 1976 student uprising,” President Zuma said.
This year marks 40 years since the 16 June 1976 Soweto uprising, where hundreds of young people protested against the apartheid government and their imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction.
It was on this day that hundreds of young people lost their lives in the struggle for liberation, which started a revolt that spread to other parts of the country, paving the way for a South Africa that is democratic, non-racist, non-sexist and belonging to all who live in it.
President Zuma condemned the violence that has characterised some protests in the country, saying the conduct is unacceptable.
South Africa recently witnessed the burning of more than 20 schools in Vuwani, Limpopo, by people who were unhappy about being made part of another municipality.
“Hooliganism and thuggery do not build nations. I also wish to remind South African youth to uphold the values that we hold dear as a nation, such as Ubuntu and respect,” he said.
He urged South Africans to respect one another, regardless of age, even if they disagree on matters.
“In paying tribute to the class of 1976, we urge our youth to make education their apex priority too. Nothing must distract you from obtaining education,” he said.
President Zuma also encouraged young people to open up their own small businesses as government has created opportunities for support by many agencies within government.
Speaking on behalf of families who lost loved ones in June 1976, Lesedi Mashinini said young people need to take responsibility for their lives by making use of the opportunities of education that are available to them.
“During this Youth Month, let us remember that the only person that can liberate you as a young person is you. No amount of drugs or chasing material possessions… can change your situation.
“Education will liberate you. Use every minute of your life to make it better,” Mashinini said.
She is the niece of 1976 student leader Tsietsi Mashinini.