Tomorrow’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) to the joint sitting of Parliament by President Cyril Ramaphosa “comes at a time of great anxiety and hardship, as South Africa and the world fight the deadly Covid-19”.

The Presiding Officers (POs), led by National Assembly Speaker Ms Thandi Modise and National Council of Provinces Chairperson Mr Amos Masondo, say measures have been put in place to ensure wide public access to the SONA, while observing all necessary Covid-19 protocols.

In addition, the sitting will be hybrid, with limited numbers of Members of Parliament (MPs), distinguished guests and media in the National Assembly (NA) Chamber and others linking up through virtual platforms.

In addressing the virtual media briefing, the POs said via a statement that “a total of 28 Members of Parliament representing the two Houses of Parliament from various parliamentary political parties will be in the physical NA Chamber. They are ANC (14), DA (5), IFP (1), FF+ (1), ACDP (1), GOOD (1), Cope (1), NFP (1), ATM (1), AIC (1) and Aljamah-ah (1)”.

The Speaker, Ms Modise, confirmed that the Economic Freedom Fighters will attend the address through the virtual platforms. She confirmed that all MPs not physically present in the Chamber will connect through a virtual platform.

“The President will address the sitting physically from the Chamber. Also present in the Chamber will be Deputy President Mr David Mabuza. Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo and Justice of the Supreme Court of Appeal, Justice Dumisani H Zondi will represent the judiciary in the Chamber, while the Dean of the resident diplomatic corps, Ambassador Bene L M’Poko, will represent ambassadors.”

Invited guests, who confirmed attendance via the virtual platform, “include former Presidents and Deputy Presidents of South Africa, former Presiding Officers of the Parliament of South Africa, the diplomatic corps, the Pan-African Parliament President, the President of the Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, guests of the President, representatives of civil society, faith-based, statutory and constitutional institutions.”

According to the NCOP Chairperson, Mr Masondo, “everything has been done to ensure adequate security” which he described as “a standard requirement for events like SONA. It Is not overdone but to keep in line with the requirements of the moment“. He added that Parliament will record “significant savings” and that monies saved will be redirected to assist with strengthening the work of Parliament.

Ms Modise expanded that only the usual parliamentary security and presidential security will be visible on the parliamentary precinct. She explained that the “only costs to Parliament will be that of the virtual connection estimated to be just over R100 000.”

Parliament also confirmed that “various categories of guests, including members of the public, who cannot be accommodated in the Chamber or precinct will link up through a webinar that has a capacity for 1 000 guests. The platform will be non-interactive, with no chat capabilities”.

To this end, “former President Thabo Mbeki, former Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, former National Assembly Speaker Ms Baleka Mbete, and former National Council of Provinces (NCOP) Chairperson Mr Mninwa Mahlangu have all registered for the webinar.”

The POs described the #SONA21 address “as an opportunity for the President to speak to the nation about a variety of domestic and global issues” and to “update the nation on progress with government’s existing commitments and key plans for the year ahead”.

The SONA is a joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament, the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, and is called by the President of the Republic in terms of section 42(5) of the Constitution. It brings together the three arms of the state under one roof.

#SONA21 will also take place on the 31st anniversary of former President Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, described by the POs “as a watershed moment in our struggle for a democratic, non-racial, non-sexist South Africa, founded on the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law”.

South Africans will be able to follow #SONA21, scheduled for 7 pm on Thursday, live via various online and media broadcast platforms such as Parliament TV on DSTV Channel 408 and YouTube, including broadcasting on national television and radio stations.

The POs are confident that #SONA21 will proceed smoothly.