Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu and more than 80 other prominent South Africans have signed a declaration warning of an "assault on democracy" in the country.
In a statement, dated 26 November, Tutu and a host of public figures warned that a spate of sometimes violent protests, particularly in the Western Cape, constitute "a growing assault on democracy country wide."
The signatories -- who include religious and secular public figures -- accused "politicians and activists" in the Western Cape of stoking anger over the lack of basic services in slums for political gain.
The Western Cape province is governed by the opposition Democratic Alliance and will be a key battle ground in next year's general elections, with the ANC seeking to regain control.
"In the Western Cape there have been blatant attempts to make the province 'ungovernable' simply because certain elements disagree with the democratic choice of the majority in that province," the statement said.
"This attack on democracy is a denial of everything the freedom struggle was about, and is being carried out in a dangerous spirit of hate."
The comments come ahead of a rally planned for Friday in Cape Town, which the authorities have said is unlawful and will be dispersed.
In October thousands of angry demonstrators ran amok in the centre of the city looting shops and assaulting foreign migrants.
A group of around 2,000-3,000 people blocked several streets before amassing in front of the provincial legislature to protest against poor public services.
"The recent examples on display in the Western Cape may be a disturbing trend that demonstrates a growing assault on democracy country wide," the statement said.
The Democratic Alliance has accused the ruling ANC and its allies of stoking the fire.
"It is understandable that poor people are feeling frustrated and angry," the signatories said.
"However constructive engagement on the best way forward is possible and desirable, without resort to violence, and without fomenting hate or disrespect."
They called on those in power to step in.
"The lack of serious leadership and authority in disciplining this form of anti-democratic behaviour carries serious risks and encourages a spirit of hate which, once unleashed, may take many years to overcome with drastic consequences for our economy."