South Africa: SONA - Pomp and Ceremony to Be the Order of the Day

Former president Jacob Zuma, his wife Sizakele Khumalo and former speaker Mr Max Sisulu at Parliament (file photo).

Parliament is ready to host the most inclusive day in the political and parliamentary calendar - the 2019 State of the Nation Address (SONA).

The important occasion is called in terms of Section 42 of the Constitution by the President of the Republic and sees a joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament.

It is also one of the rare occasions when the three arms of the state come together under one roof. The executive, the judiciary and the legislature will play out their constitutional roles in full view of the nation.

The speech - which has been scheduled for Thursday, 7 February - will afford President Cyril Ramaphosa an opportunity to speak to the nation on the general state of South Africa, to reflect on a wide range of political, economic and social matters within the domestic and global contexts, to account to the nation on the work of government and to set out the government's program of action.

In light of the prevailing economic conditions, Parliament this week said it has trimmed its ceremonial arrangements without compromising the significance and decorum of the occasion.

However, the nation will still be treated to the usual red carpet fashion, ceremonial parade exhibiting military traditions such as drills, and ethos of the army, the navy and the air force escort, military ceremonial motor escort.

The President's route will be lined by the SANDF, the military band and a fly-past and 21-gun salute will ensure that day is vibrant.

Proceedings at Parliament will start at around 4:30pm as members of the judiciary, cabinet ministers, Members of Parliament including the Speakers of Provincial Legislatures, Premiers and diplomats arrive at the Company Gardens entrance in Government Avenue to the Old Assembly.

Former Presidents, former Deputy Presidents, the former National Assembly Speaker and former Chief Justices are also invited. Their arrival to the Parliamentary precinct is followed by a procession Parliament's Presiding Officers, Deputy President David Mabuza and President Ramaphosa.

The President will take the national salute on a podium outside the National Assembly building, which includes the 21-gun salute. A fly-past by the South African Air Force takes place at the same time.

The 21-gun salute became the international norm for the highest honour a nation rendered and it is fired in honour of the Head of State, the national flag, the Head of State of a foreign nation, a member of a reigning royal family and a former Head of State.

Thereafter a praise singer will lead the President into the National Assembly Chamber. Consistent with the principle of rotation that is intended to afford all languages fair and equal opportunity, the praise signing for this SONA will be rendered in Setswana.

President Ramaphosa is expected to deliver his address in the National Assembly Chamber at 7pm.

Ordinary South Africans can watch the entire proceedings live on their radios, televisions or at public viewing sites across the provinces.

The two Houses of Parliament convene again jointly to debate the President's address over two days, on 12 and 13 February. This process provides the representatives of the people with the opportunity to interrogate the content of the State of the Nation Address.

The President is expected to then reply to the debate on 14 February.

With 2019 being an election year, Parliament will be hosting two SONA addresses this year. One signifying the end of the 5th term of Parliament and the second will usher in the 6th Parliament and administration after the national and provincial elections, expected to take place in May.

The end of the current Parliament coincides with the 25th anniversary of democracy in South Africa and sees Parliament accounting to the nation, through the Legacy Report.

The report will detail how Parliament carried out its constitutional functions in the last five years which have seen transitioned activism and robustness among the political parties represented in the National Assembly.

Some of the successes of this term of Parliament include the strengthening of oversight and accountability, which saw various inquiries conducted transparently and quality laws passed to intensify the pace of transformation.

Strides were also made in putting the people at the centre of parliamentary programmes, further, the Oversight and Accountability Model was recognised as worthy of emulation by the Inter-Parliamentary Union in its Global Parliamentary Report.

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