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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A South African deputy minister apologised on Monday after footage appeared to show him assaulting a woman at a night club over the weekend.

The incident sparked outcry from civil society and opposition parties.

South Africa has a high rate of violent crime and a string of grisly murders of women and children earlier this year sparked outrage. President Jacob Zuma called the violence against women and children a national "crisis".

The incident happened on Sunday morning at a nightclub in Johannesburg, a few days before National Women's Day on Wednesday, commemorating the 1956 women's protest march under the apartheid government.

"I should have exercised restraint. That shameful incident should not have happened," said Deputy Minister Mduduzi Manana in a statement, adding that he will cooperate with police.

Zuma said he had been disturbed by the incident involving Manana.

"The South African Government has made violence against women a priority crime," Zuma said in a statement.

"Women have a right to safety and security and must not be attacked or abused by anyone, anywhere in the country, regardless of the position of the either the perpetrator or victim. South Africa must be safe for all women."

The police ministry confirmed that a case of assault was being investigated against Manana.

"The police must be given space to investigate this case without fear or favour, no one is above the law irrespective of their position in society," said Police Minister Fikile Mbalula.

The main opposition party the Democratic Alliance called for Manana to step down.

(Reporting by Tanisha Heiberg; Editing by James Macharia/Jeremy Gaunt)

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Reuters