President Cyril Ramaphosa says calm has been restored to most areas torn by looting and violence in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng this week.
On national television he says the affects will be felt for weeks to come.
He admits that "we must acknowledge that we were poorly prepared for an orchestrated campaign of public violence, destruction and sabotage of this nature.
"While we commend the brave actions of our security forces on the ground, we must admit that we did not have the capabilities and plans in place to respond swiftly and decisively.
"Our police were faced with a difficult situation and exercised commendable restraint to prevent any loss of life or further escalation.
"However, once additional security personnel were deployed, they were able to quickly restore calm to most areas that were affected."
Ramaphosa says: "It is clear now that the events of the past week were nothing less than a deliberate, coordinated and well-planned attack on our democracy.
"The constitutional order of our country is under threat.
"The current instability and ongoing incitement to violence constitutes a direct contravention of the Constitution and the rule of law.
"These actions are intended to cripple the economy, cause social instability and severely weaken - or even dislodge - the democratic state.
"Using the pretext of a political grievance, those behind these acts have sought to provoke a popular insurrection.
"They have sought to exploit the social and economic conditions under which many South Africans live - conditions that have worsened since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic - and to provoke ordinary citizens and criminal networks to engage in opportunistic acts of looting.
"The ensuing chaos is used as a smokescreen to carry out economic sabotage through targeted attacks on trucks, factories, warehouses and other infrastructure necessary for the functioning of our economy and the provision of services to our people.
"Through social media, through fake news and misinformation, they have sought to inflame racial tensions and violence.
"Worst of all, they have sought to manipulate the poor and vulnerable for their own benefit.
"Yet, despite the widespread destruction, this attempted insurrection has failed to gain popular support.
"It has failed because of the efforts of our security forces, and it has failed because South Africans have rejected it and have stood up in defence of our hard-won democracy.
The President says once the crisis has passed government will undertake a thorough and critical review of its preparedness and its response.
Police Minister Bheki Cele is visiting KwaZulu/Natal today to quell the racial violence between Zulu and Indian South Africans that has caused 20 of the 212 death from the unrest.
Cele and Ramaphosa say a dozen instigators of the anarchy have been identified. One of them is among the 2550 people arrested.
Former spy chief Tulani Dlomo, who also served as South Africa's Ambassador to Japan, has turned himself in to police and vehemently denied that he ii one of the instigators.
He says authorities turned to him for help this week for help in dealing with the violence.
Ramaphosa says the arterial N3 highway between Johannesburg and Durban has been opened and its being patrolled by the contingents of the 25000 soldiers drafted in assist police.
In addition to dealing with the extensive damage looters did to 161 malls and shopping centers, 11 warehouses, eight factories and 161 liquors outlets, government has to stables the country and secure essential supplies and infrastructure.
Ramaphosa says government must provide relief and support recovery and rebuilding.
"We must encourage the active efforts of citizens in defence of lives, livelihoods and democracy," he says.
"To stablise the country, we have massively increased the numbers of law enforcement and secuerity personnel on the ground in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
"Specialised units of our law enforcement agencies are working around the clock to locate and apprehend those responsible for planning and cooperating this violence.
"We will spare no effort in brining these individuals to justice."
Ramaphosa continues to resist calls for a state of emergency to be declared.
He says he confident that "the deployment of our security forces, working together with communities and social partners across the country, will be able to restore order and prevent further violence.
"We will extinguish the fires that are raging and stamp out every last ember.
"We will identify and act against those who lit the flame, and those who spread it."