Speaking at a conference on gender-based violence in Johannesburg, Ramaphosa said that despite government efforts, violence against women and children continued unabated.
Official statistics, he said, showed a 52% increase in the murder of women during the first three months of this year compared with same time in 2021 when the country was under COVID-19 restrictions.
The number of children murdered spiked by 46% during the same period.
"These horrors defy comprehension," he said. "They tell a story about our society that is deeply disturbing. It is a story of a nation at war with itself."
South Africa has been rattled by a series of gruesome crimes, including the gang rape of eight women in July and the discovery of half a dozen bodies, some believed to be missing sex workers, at a building in Johannesburg last month.
Ramaphosa faced a barrage of criticism and questions from women's rights advocates as he addressed the conference organized by his office on gender-based violence and femicide.
"We as South Africa are the rape capital of the world," said Lebogang Motau, of the Free World Initiative non-profit organization. "Leadership needs to do better."
The president said the government has passed laws to better protect women and hold perpetrators accountable, earmarking 21 billion rand ($1.1 billion) to advance women empowerment. Funds have also been allocated to support survivors, strengthen the criminal justice system and undertake prevention programs, he said.
But Ramaphosa admitted the process has sometimes been too slow and the funding inadequate.
Police data showed rapes and sexual offenses went up by 13% between 2017 to 2018 and 2021 to 2022, Ramaphosa said.
Ramaphosa called on the private sector to "make more resources available" to help prevent violence.
"In every part of society... we need to be organizing men's dialogues," he said. "We need to reach out to boys and young men to develop masculinities that value respect, understanding and accountability."