Long-held traditions associated with the State of the Nation Address (SONA) will not be on display tonight as President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the nation at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have an impact on everyday life.
What has not changed is that the President will still deliver the annual address at 7pm tonight.
The State of the Nation Address is called by the President in terms of Section 42(5) of the Constitution.
It is a joint sitting of the two houses of Parliament – the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces – and one of the rare occasions that bring together the three arms of the State under one roof.
However, SONA 2021will be delivered under strict COVID-19 regulations with only 50 people allowed in the National Assembly chamber and while the President will address the joint sitting of Parliament physically in Parliament, most Members of Parliament (MPs), and some from other arms of the State and the diplomatic corps will follow proceedings virtually.
This is in addition to Premiers, Speakers and other delegates representing provinces in the NCOP, eminent persons, diplomatic corps, distinguished guests and members of the public also forming part of the event virtually.
Given the regulations, the SONA which will take the form of a hybrid joint sitting with no more than 50 MPs, representatives from the Judiciary and the Executive in the physical chamber and the rest of this category connecting virtually.
There will be no red carpet and procession of the three arms of the State; physical participation of the junior and civil guard of honour; eminent persons; imbongi (praise singer) and military parade that leads the presidential procession onto a saluting dais on the steps of the National Assembly.
Briefing reporters ahead of the SONA, Parliament’s spokesperson Molapo Mothapo said where it is possible and appropriate, some traditional features will take place virtually in “keeping with the significance and character of the Address.”
Despite the break from the traditional aspects of the address, the SONA provides the President with an opportunity to speak to the nation on the general state of South Africa and to reflect on a wide range of political, economic and social matters within the domestic and global context.
This important joint sitting also provides an opportunity to account to the nation on the work of government and to set out the programme of action for the coming year.
Traditionally, the President makes key government announcements during this sitting.
Tonight’s event will cost the most minimum of the budget envisaged of R2.2 million of which the significant savings expected, will be redirected to modernising the technological capabilities of Parliament. This is expected to enhance its constitutional functions of public participation, oversight and law-making.
In addition, the full amount budgeted may not be used, with the entire hybrid event expected to cost much lower than the amount budgeted.
The SONA will be broadcast live both on radio and television, as well as streamed live on social media platforms, Parliamentary television and Parliament’s YouTube channels.
Meanwhile, Parliament has advised Cape Town motorists and pedestrians of minimal parking restrictions and temporary road closures with full road closures around the precinct expected today.