Good Day Ladies and Gentlemen of the media.

Thank you for joining us today in our first interaction for the year and may the year ahead be fruitful to us all.

As we are all aware, the country is seeing a surge in Covid -19 infections and subsequently, we have moved to the adjusted Level 3 lockdown regulations.

The cumulative number of COVID-19 cases identified in South Africa is over One Million and Four Hundred Thousand, with recorded deaths at plus Forty-One Thousand. Cape Town, the seat of Parliament has been cited amongst the country’s Covid-19 hotspots. South Africa is in a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, which is spreading faster and causing more deaths than before.

Parliament as well has not been spared from the virus with over 56 recorded infections amongst staff members. We are however greatly encouraged by the recovery rate of both Members of Parliament and staff. Sadly, we have lost 12 Members of Parliament and five officials since the outbreak of the virus. We once again extend our heartfelt condolences to their families and of those of thousands that have passed on since the outbreak of the pandemic.

We also pay homage to all the health and essential services workers who have been on the front line daily, putting their lives at risk by taking action and tackling the pandemic head-on. We continue to urge South Africans to adhere to all safety protocols to help reduce the spread of the virus.

As Parliament, we will continue exercising our vigilance in conducting oversight over the Executive as they implement their plans to reduce the rate of infections.

Parliament will heed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s call, in his address to the nation on 11 January 2021, where he emphasised that caution should be taken as the new coronavirus variant is infecting people at a rapid rate.

Hence the Presiding Officers have called this media briefing to bring you and the nation up to speed on our state of preparedness to host one of the most important events in our annual calendar, the State of the Nation Address (SONA).

The Presiding Officers of Parliament have received correspondence from the President of the Republic requesting a joint sitting and, upon consultation, agreed to schedule the Adress on Thursday, February 11 at 19:00.

The State of the Nation Address (SONA) is called by the President in terms of Section 42(5) of the Constitution. It is a joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament and one of the rare occasions that bring together the three arms of the State under one roof.

SONA provides the President with 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 Government's program of action for the coming year. Traditionally, the President makes key Government announcements during this important joint sitting of Parliament.

Since late last year, Parliament has been preparing for SONA by engaging various stakeholders. SONA in its nature is a ceremonial joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament, called specifically for only one item on the agenda, the President's State of the Nation Address. The sitting is presided over jointly by the National Assembly Speaker and the National Council of Provinces Chairperson under the applicable joint rules of Parliament.

In strict adherence to the National State of Disaster regulations, this year’s SONA will take the form of a hybrid joint sitting, with at least no more than 50 Members of Parliament, representatives from the Judiciary and the Executive in the physical chamber and the rest of this category connecting virtually. Other categories that will virtually form part of this important event include Premiers, Speakers and other special delegates representing provinces in the National Council of Provinces, eminent persons, diplomatic corps, distinguished guests and members of the public.

Due to the limited number of persons permitted within the precincts of Parliament, and Parliament’s sensitivity to the prevailing conditions, various ceremonial aspects that usually characterise the SONA have been suspended. In this regard, there will be no red carpet and procession of the three arms of the state, physical participation of junior and civil guard of honour, eminent persons, Imbongi, military parade that leads the presidential procession onto a saluting dais on the steps of the National Assembly, the guard of honour by the National Ceremonial Guard and the 21-gun salute.

Where possible and appropriate, some of these traditional features shall take place virtually in keeping with the significance and character of the Address.

President Cyril Ramaphosa will physically deliver the SONA from the National Assembly Chamber at 19h00.

After the delivery of the address by the President, the two Houses will again converge jointly on a hybrid platform to debate the address of the President, over two days, 16 and 17 February. The President will reply to the debate by Members of Parliament on 18 February.

The joint sitting will be conducted in line with the Rules applicable to virtual or hybrid Sittings.

Joint Rule 2 of the Joint Rules of Parliament provides that the Speaker and Chairperson of the Council, acting jointly, may give a ruling or make a rule in respect of any matter for which the Joint Rules do not provide, having due regard to the procedures, precedents, practices and conventions developed by joint sittings of both Houses and on the basis of constitutional values and principles underpinning an open, accountable and democratic society. A rule framed by the Speaker and Chairperson, acting jointly, remains in force until a meeting of the Joint Rules Committee has decided on it.

The Joint Rules of Parliament remain in operation and are supplemented by this rule in order to provide for virtual or hybrid joint sittings and joint committee meetings.

The theme for SONA retains that of the 6th Parliament, “Following up on our commitments: making your future work better”. The theme underscores the character of a people-centred Parliament which must deepen democracy, improve the quality of life of all South Africans, strengthen transparency, accountability and responsiveness to the needs of the people.

Due to the hybrid nature of this year’s SONA, the event will cost the most minimum of the budget envisaged, which is Two Million and Two Hundred Thousand Rands. The significant savings expected will be redirected to modernising technological capabilities of Parliament to enhance its constitutional functions of public participation, oversight and law-making.
Due to the socio-economic hardships facing South Africans, Parliament had over the years scaled down on SONA and drastically cut its budget.

All the joint sittings on the President’s SONA, parliamentary debate on SONA and the President’s reply to the debate will be broadcast live both on radio and television as well as streamed live on the social media platforms, Parliamentary television and Parliament’s YouTube channels.

South Africans are urged to form part of this important events and participate through wide range of public platforms.

27 January 2021