President Jacob Zuma said a debate on race would take the country backwards, calling instead for a deeper understanding of non-racialism in South Africa, according to a report in the Star on Friday.
"We have never looked at things in terms of race and ethnicity but, rather, in terms of people being South Africans," Zuma said.
He was responding to a question about African National Congress Youth League leader (ANC YL) Julius Malema's recent criticism of the racial make-up of Zuma's Cabinet.
Malema had questioned why blacks had been overlooked for key economic portfolios.
Zuma defended Malema, saying he was "young and still learning" and had a right to raise issues.
Zuma said he would argue against a suggestion by the ANC's national executive committee (NEC) that the party start a debate on race and transformation.
NEC member Lindiwe Sisulu made the call after Malema said on radio SAfm that there would be an uprising if the issue of black people's access to economic levers of power was not "handled properly".
He said political education on what non-racialism meant was needed.
"The fact of the matter is the ANC does not look at things from a race point of view," Zuma said.
"We are a non-racial organisation."
He continued: "It cannot be a crucial thing for the ANC to begin to look at race and ethnicity, because you are dealing with colleagues, with comrades, who have sacrificed and who were there (during the struggle against apartheid).
"There is a need for a greater understanding of the policy of the ANC - a policy we championed when apartheid was killing people.
"We never looked at things in terms of race and ethnicity, but (rather) in terms of non-racialism, as South Africans. But young people have a right to raise these things."
He said if people start saying "lets talk about race", they would be "moving backwards".