The delivery of the State of the Nation Address in a joint sitting of Parliament is the only occasion that brings together the three arms of the state (the legislature, executive and the judiciary) under one roof. It provides the President with an opportunity to speak to the nation on South Africa’s general state of affairs, to reflect on a wide range of political, economic and social matters within the domestic and global context, to account to the nation on the work of government and to set out government’s programme of action.
The President makes key government announcements during this important occasion. It is a ceremonial joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament, called specifically for the President to deliver the Sona and no other business may be considered on this day.
The President delivers the Sona before Parliament because Parliament is charged with ensuring that the work flowing from this address is implemented. Most importantly, Sona is delivered in Parliament because the priorities outlined during the Address have budgetary implications demanding robust oversight – one of Parliament’s constitutional responsibilities.
Parliament may accept, reject or amend the allocation of budgets to government departments to ensure that these are in line with national priorities as outlined in the Sona. Parliament may also withhold budgets of departments whose annual performance plans are not in line with these priorities.
The official programme usually begins with three processions – the procession of provincial speakers, provincial premiers and the judiciary proceeding to the National Assembly Chamber through the building’s main entrance.
The presidential cavalcade then arrives in the parliamentary precincts. The President alights, is welcomed by the Presiding Officers and their deputies and proceeds to the National Assembly Chamber. The aides-de-camp lead the presidential procession. Members of the South African National Defence Force observe a military guard of honour at the State of the Nation Address.
Under normal conditions, outside of a Covid pandemic, guards of honour and eminent persons also line the route to the National Assembly Chamber. Junior guards of honour comprise learners from schools around the country. They form a guard of honour from the gates of Parliament, where the president disembarks. The civil guard of honour, selected on the basis of the parliamentary theme for the year, continues where the junior guard of honour ends.
The eminent persons are South Africans who have achieved outstanding results in their respective fields or who have been recognised for their contribution to society. Provincial speakers nominate them to be guests of Parliament for the event.