Instead of playing Santa and giving out gifts to the elderly in Savannah Park‚ south of Durban‚ President Jacob Zuma instead chose to defend himself at an ANC Youth League lecture.

As part of his pre-Christmas itinerary‚ Zuma was scheduled to visit the area. But the gogos who gathered at a local stadium were left disappointed as Number One spent his afternoon at the Olive Convention Centre‚ about 30km away‚ at the Youth League’s economic freedom lecture.

He also bailed on a planned family outing to the Moses Mabhida Stadium to watch Kaizer Chiefs take on Golden Arrows. By Wednesday afternoon‚ about 200 people were waiting at the stadium for Zuma’s arrival. Zama Gasa‚ who accompanied her grandmother‚ said they arrived at the local sportsfield about 12pm and there were already about 150 to 200 people there.

Others had already left.

“We were told the event has been postponed to Saturday as the president had another pressing engagement. Gogo was disappointed‚ but luckily we don’t live far. We will come back on Saturday‚” she said.

The Jacob G Zuma Foundation confirmed the event would be postponed until Chirstmas Eve. Had Zuma gone to the Savannah Park event‚ he was likely to have been as jovial as he was during his week-long charm offensive in his home province.

Last weekend he celebrated with the winners of the annual Jacob G Zuma Foundation soccer tournament in Eshowe and on Wednesday played one match at his chess competition in Mandeni‚ both in the north of KwaZulu-Natal.

So happy was Zuma in Mandeni – where he chatted freely and laughed easily while wearing a dapper Panama hat – that he even revealed the secret to his political staying power.

“If you play this game [chess] you are taught to calm down. The game teaches you strategies and tactics and allows your mind to function excellently and to be stretched to the last degree. This allows you to always anticipate the decisions and tactics of the opponent. This is how you avoid pitfalls‚” he said.

But instead of this easy-going‚ gentlemanly persona‚ Zuma was instead harsh and went on the offensive at the youth league event on Wednesday. He gave the strongest indication yet that he might pull a rabbit out of the hat‚ in a similar way to how he removed Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister just over a year ago‚ sending the rand and the markets spiralling.

Zuma said he wanted assurances from the ANC’s rank-and-file that he would have their support if he took a similar decision. Zuma recalled how he was left on his own by the party faithful and forced to reverse his decision to replace Nene with Des van Rooyen. Speaking about last year’s events‚ Zuma said he was attacked just like “they are still attacking me now”.

“We were not there to defend the correct decision. The question is‚ if the president takes another decision‚ are we there to defend it? Are we alert? The fact of the matter is that the economy is in few hands.

“Now I can tell you sitting on my own being pushed to reverse the decision‚ I said to myself [that] this is what happens when the nation is not alert‚ when they don’t even understand the action you are taking‚ when they listen to the wrong analysis.

“Some call it the disaster‚ the Nene disaster. Is the nation aware of what needs to be done to the economy? That’s the issue because any president is not going to tell you why they took such a decision‚ because you don’t have to explain. There a number of reasons why you put in a minister or remove a minister. You don’t have to explain‚” he said.

Zuma said he is often asked to take tough decisions‚ but then such decisions are rubbished. “How am I going to take tough decisions when there’s no one to defend me?” he asked.