Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has warned that "antiwhite" sentiments among protesting students could lead to "racial conflict".
He has also cautioned against attacks on Afrikaans as a language of instruction at some universities, pointing out that it is an official language whose "largest [group of] speakers ... is the working class in the Western Cape".
Nzimande this week lambasted as "reckless and irresponsible" students who refuse to go to class.
In an interview with the Sunday Times on Thursday, after a meeting with university vice-chancellors, Nzimande spoke out against antiwhite slogans used by some protesting students recently.
"The danger is that you can have racial conflict [because of antiwhite chauvinism].
"It is like that T-shirt which says 'Kill all the whites' - that's antiwhite chauvinism. It is backward, that thing. It is as backward sometimes ... [as] the backwardness of racism. You are not going to fight racism through chauvinism," said Nzimande.
A group of students at the University of the Witwatersrand, believed to be part of the #FeesMustFall Movement, last month began spraying graffiti on campus walls and wearing T-shirts with the slogan "F*** white people".
Their actions were condemned by the university's management, which threatened to expel them. But the Wits branch of the #FeesMustFall movement denied that the offending slogan was racist, saying: "There is no such thing as whites being victims of reverse racism."
To be racist, it added, "you need to possess two traits, which are power and privilege".
But Nzimande said the students' approach was doing more harm than good to the struggle for nonracialism.
"We want to build a nonracial society, we must confront racists and racism but we must be above them ... That is how we liberated this country. Had we behaved like that we would have burnt each other to the mutual destruction of everybody," he said.
Nzimande's meeting with the vice-chancellors on Thursday followed two weeks of unrest at a number of institutions, mainly about the continued use of Afrikaans as medium of instruction.
Student organisations at the University of Pretoria and the University of the Free State want Afrikaans to be scrapped.
Nzimande said it should stay but should not be used to exclude.
"To us the way forward is clear: we are not fighting Afrikaans; Afrikaans is one of our official languages. But what we are against is for Afrikaans to be used to exclude students who actually don't speak the language at university level.
"By the way, the single largest [group of] speakers of the Afrikaans language are the working class in the Western Cape. Sometimes we tend to forget about that ... it is not the language of the white elite, as we sometimes want to present it," said Nzimande.
The higher education minister, who is also the SACP's general secretary, also criticised protesters for refusing to return to lecture halls while negotiations were being held.
He said the students were repeating a 1980s mistake that led to students coining the slogan "Liberation before education". Oliver Tambo, the ANC president at the time, persuaded the protesters to abandon that slogan, said Nzimande.
"We even had a song that said we must fight and study at the same time. The two things are not in contradiction."
It was "reckless and irresponsible" for a "fringe element" within the student movement to say: "We must shut down the universities until there is free education for all."
The burning of apartheid-era and "colonial" artefacts was also wrong as that was tantamount to trying to erase history, he said.
He pointed out that important historical articles - such as the original Rivonia Trial documents - are kept at universities such as Wits, and that burning down buildings could lead to such items being lost for good.
"So if you trash a university, you are likely to destroy that history. It is unacceptable, that's why we are saying even the statue of Hendrik Verwoerd must not be destroyed. We must ... keep it so that we are able to explain to future generations that this was Hendrik Verwoerd who did A, B, C, D.
"What is this idea that we are burning whiteness!? Really, what is that? You are burning artefacts. Even if they were colonial artefacts, we must find a way of preserving them," he said.
South Africa wasn't unique in preserving history; the communist-ruled Cuba was "amazing" in keeping artefacts belonging to the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship overthrown by Fidel Castro in 1959.
The universities were partly to blame, Nzimande added, as vice-chancellors did not engage enough with the students on these issues.
"We have to open up. This is the matter students complain about - that they are not being listened to. But of course students [must] have responsibilities ... when you are being engaged then you [don't] walk out."