For the first time in South Africa’s democratic history, Cape Town Mayor, Mr Geordin Hill-Lewis, has handed over Cape Town’s City Hall to Parliament’s Presiding Officers so that the venue can serve as the parliamentary precinct for the 2022 State of the Nation Address.

Receiving the City Hall from the Mayor, the Speaker of the National Assembly Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, said one of South Africa’s greatest losses during the recent fire that swept through the Parliament Street precinct in January was the complete destruction of the National Assembly (NA) Chamber, which usually hosts both NA and Joint sittings Parliament, including the State of the Nation Address.

This building was more than bricks and mortar, she said. Rather, it represented a distinguished national heritage, rich in political history that connected past, present and future “for a truly united, non-racial, non-sexist, prosperous and free South Africa”.

“The fact that we are here today,” she continued, “on this historic occasion of the hand-over of the Cape Town City Hall, is testament to the dynamism and vibrancy of our Constitution in so far as its foresight and safeguards are concerned. Equally significant and important is the matured leadership, unity of purpose and decisiveness displayed by leaders here in making required and necessary interventions to provide solutions in times crisis.

“We once again extend our deepest gratitude to the Executive Mayor of this City, Councillor Hill-Lewis, for your leadership and solution-oriented intervention in providing this historic hall as the precincts of Parliament.”

Both Cape Town’s Mayor and the Premier of the Western Cape, Mr Alan Winde, offered Parliament the use of various provincial and city properties as alternative venues for Parliament’s work after the fire. Among all the venues offered, the City Hall was the most suitable facility that met all the parliamentary requirements regarding infrastructure and capacity. It was also an affordable option, as the Mayor made them available to Parliament free of any hiring fee.

“This hall has rich history that links our past colonial, apartheid era and our present democratic dispensation,” Ms Mapisa-Nqakula pointed out. “The Hall, which was built in the early 1900 and has for years served as one of the colonial symbols of the Cape Colony, has now become our proud heritage and a symbol of our collective hopes, aspirations and freedom. It is a historic landmark of our journey as a people towards a democratic transition and a free society, and indeed one of the critical milestones of Madiba’s long walk to freedom.

“It is the first place where Tata Mandela addressed the nation and the international community after his historic release from prison on 11 February 1990,” she went on to say. “The current President of the Republic, His Excellency Cyril Ramaphosa, stood by his side. Four years later, in 1994, after the National Assembly elected him as the first President of our democracy, he returned to the same balcony here, to once again address his people.”

It will be the first time in the history of our constitutional democracy that the State of the Nation Address will take place in this manner. However, all the appropriate rules and laws will apply to this venue and in the same manner as in the Parliament Street precinct. From the day of the hand-over, the hall now falls under the control of Parliament as per the definition of the precincts of Parliament provided for in Section 2 of the Powers, Privileges, and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act.

In handing over the City Hall to Parliament’s Presiding Officers, Mr Hill-Lewis said that this is a proud and historic moment during which the building will be transformed from one in which Capetonians gather to conduct local issues into a bigger, national site and a platform of democracy.

When Mr Mandela spoke to the people on 11 February 1990, this was a forerunner for the historic gatherings that the Hall has since played host to, including this landmark State of the Nation Address. He pledged Cape Town’s full support for a successful and inclusive event.

Parliament’s Presiding Officers and the Mayor signed a certificate of hand-over, only the second time this has happened in South Africa’s history. The first hand-over occurred in 1905.

By Mava Lukani
1 Februay 2022