"This phenomenal tourism growth is evidence that we are successfully setting ourselves apart in a competitive marketplace," Zuma said.
Britons continued to come to South Africa in droves and were the most frequent visitors, followed by the Americans and Germans.
But aggressive marketing in emerging economies meant the numbers of visitors from Asia increased 37 percent versus 2011.
The growth from Asia was driven mainly by visitors from China and India.
China has now become South Africa's fourth largest source of tourists, recording a dramatic 55.9 percent jump in the number of visitors last year.
"Since 2009, arrivals from China have more than tripled," said Zuma.
Numbers of arrivals from Africa "maintained the solid growth path" up by 8.5 percent, but visitors from the continent spent less in South Africa than they did the previous year.
Foreign tourists spent 76.4 billion rand ($8.4 billion) in South Africa last year, an increase of 7.6 percent on what they spent the previous year.
On average international tourists have cut their stays from 8.5 nights in 2011 to 7.6 nights in 2012.
In 2011, one year after the country hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup, tourists arrivals had grown by just 3.3 percent.