Benevolent Jacob Zuma says he's 'an elder on his way out'
Former president Jacob Zuma on Thursday described himself as an "elder on his way out".
Explaining to hundreds of senior citizens gathered at his annual Christmas party in his hometown of Nkandla in northern KwaZulu-Natal that they needed to be taken care of before they became "ancestors", Zuma said he too was nearing the same fate.
"But who will take care of us when you are gone?" several senior citizens interrupted.
Zuma then explained that as long as he was alive his annual Christmas parties for the elderly, youth and children would continue.
Zuma's court battle and its associated legal fees woes appeared to have had no impact on Thursday's event - the first of two parties planned by the former president. A second party for young people is planned for Saturday.
Zuma explained that there were questions about whether the party would happen, however the event was "always scheduled to take place".
He said he had started the event before he had become the president of South Africa, therefore he would see it through.
Among other dignitaries were Zuma's wife, Tobeka, KZN MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo and local chiefs.
"The elders need respect and love while they are alive so they can protect us when they are ancestors. No one wants angry ancestors," he said.
He said while not every elder would be presented with a blanket or walking stick, everyone would leave with a food parcel.
His support among the elders was evident as they voiced praise for him. Several took out their cellphones to capture photographs and videos of him.
For the past decade, "Santa" Zuma - with the aid of his "elves" in the form of senior politicians and influential businesspeople - has handed out a mountain of food, toiletries and blankets to the elderly, and sweets and other goodies to children.
There was uncertainty over this year's Christmas festivities after the high court in Pretoria ruled that Zuma must pay back millions of rands of taxpayers' funds that his lawyers pocketed for helping him fight corruption and fraud cases.
He is also required to pay back millions more in legal costs incurred in his failed bid to block the release of former public protector Thuli Madonsela's State of Capture report, which led to the formation of the commission of inquiry into state capture chaired by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo.
It was also reported last year that the Jacob Zuma Foundation, which is behind the Christmas activities, had run out of money and could not pay university fees for students it had promised to fund.
But despite all these financial woes, as well as his unceremonious Valentine's Day departure from the presidency, the party went on.