The first State of the Nation Address in this new term of Parliament, called by the President of the Republic in terms of the Constitution, takes place as South Africa is marking an important milestone of our constitutional democracy: 25th anniversary of democracy.
The past 25 years have seen a progressive solidification and maturity of freedom and democracy through regular peaceful national and provincial elections, in which people’s inalienable right to determine the government of their choice is exercised. The latest democratic elections held in May, have resulted in the creation of a newly-established Parliament, newly-established Provincial Legislatures, a newly-elected President and a newly-constituted National Executive.
The newly-constituted Legislative and Executive arms of the state, together with the Judiciary, will converge again in one place, since the election, for the President’s State of the Nation Address, scheduled for 20 June.
We also note that this State of the Nation Address takes place four days after the 43rd anniversary of the events of June 16 1976. We continue to pay homage to the youth of ’76 whose fearless actions inspired a revival of mass opposition against the apartheid regime. The sustained mass resistance contributed immensely to the collapse of apartheid minority rule and the founding of our democratic, non-racial and free South Africa.
This Youth Month is also being marked during the year in which we commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the Congress of South African Students (COSAS), formed three years after the events of June 1976 to champion the struggles of students from Black schools nationally.
As we mark these important milestones in the history of the youth struggle, it is worth recognising the increase in young public representatives in both Houses of Parliament since the election, which is up from 6% to 11%. The socio-economic challenges, such as, unemployment and inequality confronting our youthful population, which stands at 37%, must be tackled with renewed vigour, energy and fearless oversight during this term.
As we meet with you today, both Houses of Parliament are at an advanced stage in establishing the structures and systems to enable the sixth Parliament to carry out its duties, according to the Constitution. Some of the issues which the sixth Parliament will have to consider would arise from the legacy reports of the fifth Parliament. A key issue for the remainder of this quarter, however, concerns Parliament’s interrogation and consideration of the budget votes of all state entities and departments, including the Presidency and Parliament, and consideration of the Appropriation Bill, which allocates specific funds to specific state entities.
We are very mindful of the gravity of the work ahead.
STATE OF THE PREPARATIONS
The preparations for the State of the Nation Address (SONA), which provides the President with an opportunity to share government’s comprehensive plans for the coming period, are at an advanced stage.
SONA also provides Parliament with an opportunity to interrogate the plans of government – through its oversight function – and to facilitate public involvement and put in place legislative interventions to realise the delivery of services, where necessary. The President’s address, therefore, will be followed by a debate by a joint sitting of both Houses on 25 June and the President’s reply to the debate on 26 June.
While various features that have traditionally characterised both the preparations and the actual SONA ceremonies have been modified for this Address, the occasion will still preserve the decorum and solemnity of a key state event of this magnitude. In making these modifications, the prevailing economic hardships that continue to face most South Africans and the expected unfavorable weather conditions have been taken into account.
For this reason, certain aspects of public participation will not be part of the ceremony. This is being done without undermining this crucial constitutional duty of ensuring public involvement in the business of Parliament. These aspects include the junior guard and civil guard who form a guard of honour for the state procession. The Eminent Persons, who are usually selected from provinces on the basis of their outstanding achievements in their respective fields, will also not be part of the ceremony. Nine lucky winners of radio competition selected from each of our provinces to attend the joint sitting have also not been included for this event.
The guest list, however, has been carefully designed in a manner that is inclusive of a representation of ordinary members of the public.
The Imbongi, which usually ushers Presidents into the Chamber ahead of the address and is selected in concurrence with the Presidency, has also been withdrawn, following discussion with the President.
The ceremony will project the Constitutional make-up of our state, the three arms of the State, with a procession consisting of the Judiciary, the Legislature and the Executive.
There will be a full ceremonial parade of the South African National Defence Force consisting of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force; who will showcase the military strength, traditions, drills and ethos. The military will also be responsible for the Ceremonial Guard, the rendition of musical items, a salute flight by the South African Air Force and a 21-gun salute – which is synchronised to coincide with the playing of the national anthem.
As has occurred before, there will also be a mounted police escort and a military ceremonial motor escort and the lining of the President's route to Parliament by the military. Due to the expected weather conditions and the scaling down of certain aspects of the ceremony, the President’s walk to the National Assembly building, where the Address is delivered, will be shorter than usual.
Parliament has put in place comprehensive wet-weather plan in place, in case of bad rain and windy conditions.
A total of 1 200 guests of various categories have been invited for this event. These include former Presidents, Deputy Presidents, Presiding Officers and Chief Justices. Amongst other distinguished guests invited are veterans of our liberation struggle – two surviving Rivonia Trialists Mr Andrew Mlangeni and Mr Denis Goldberg; and giants of the 1956 Women’s March Ms Gertrude Shope and Ms Sophie de Bruyn.
Other categories of guests include:
- Representatives of statutory and Constitutional institutions
- Heads of Mission (the diplomatic corps)
- Representatives of the House of Traditional Leaders
- The Mayor of the City of Cape Town
- Representatives from civil society organisations, religious bodies, state-owned enterprises, business and trade organisations, trade union federations, academic and research institutions
- Members of the Judiciary
- Chapter Nine Institutions Supporting Constitutional Democracy
- Directors-general of national government departments
- Guests of political parties represented in Parliament
- Guests of members of Parliament. Members of Parliament, including ministers and deputy ministers, attend as part of their duties as public representatives
Parliament has budgeted a total amount of R2.m for this State of the Nation Address ceremony, and indications are that we will spent significantly less than the budgeted figure. For the February SONA ceremony, we budgeted just over R2m but closed with a total spending of R1.6m. Parliament has been tightening SONA budgets in the last few years, which has, despite the price inflation, came down from R9.2m five years ago to R2m for this SONA ceremony.
We are mindful of this ceremony takes place against the backdrop of a recent slump in our economy in the first three months of 2019, which Stats SA observed is the biggest quarterly fall in economic activity since the first quarter of 2009. Appropriate cost-cutting measures are thus necessary.
Once again, there will be no post-Address dinner for MPs and guests. The drastic reduction in the event marketing and advertising budget has also boosted cost containment measures.
Media is instrumental in ensuring the public participates in this important ceremony of the State. We are thus pleased with the huge interest being demonstrated by the media both locally and internationally, with more than 700 members of the media from various news organisations having applied for accreditation thus far to report on the address from the parliamentary precinct.
Parliament will also be broadcasting the occasion on Parliament TV (DSTV 408) and will stream the address live on Parliament’s YouTube channel.
Members of the public are urged to be part of the event through a wide range of interactive platforms.