SONA 2020: Steeped in tradition

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Ruffles, top hats and dazzling outfits have over the years become synonymous with the State of the Nation Address and while government has implemented austerity measures given the position the country finds itself in, many will be watching the address, to catch a glimpse of the much-loved traditions that accompany the SONA.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is scheduled to deliver the SONA on Thursday, 13 February, in a national broadcast that will get underway at 7pm.

SONA provides the President with an opportunity to speak to the nation on the state of South Africa while also reflecting on a wide range of political, economic and social matters within domestic and global contexts.

Outside of the government’s plan of action which is outlined in the annual SONA, many will be glued to their television sets to catch a glimpse of the traditions that accompany the President’s address.

Among these traditions is the red carpet appearance of invited guests and Members of Parliament (MPs) who will put their best foot forward as cameras click away in the background.

“Who are you wearing?” no doubt has become a regular phrase uttered on the red carpet as guests make their way into the Parliamentary chambers.

Few can argue that the choice of pattern, cut and colour of one’s outfit will give South Africans a glimpse into the personality of each guest.

Former Heads of State, former Presiding Officers, the diplomatic corps, guests of the President, representative from civil society, faith-based organisations, as well as representatives of statutory and constitutional institutions are a permanent feature on the guest list.

Proceedings will kick-off around 4:30 pm with the arrival of members of the judiciary, cabinet ministers and MPs, including the Speakers of the various Provincial Legislatures, Premiers and diplomats arriving at the Company Gardens entrance in Government Avenue to the Old Assembly.

Those watching will be treated to a ceremonial parade exhibiting military traditions such as drills and the ethos of the army, the navy and the air force escort as well as the military ceremonial motor escort.

Meanwhile, those who will listen to the SONA on their radio sets, will be able to also follow the action through the live streaming of proceedings on Parliament’s website, DStv channel and YouTube channel. 

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) will line the President’s route to Parliament while the military band will play top tunes while awaiting the President’s arrival. A 21-gun salute, will also form part of the sights and sounds of the day.

The salute became the international norm for the highest honour a nation renders and it is fired in honour of the Head of State, the national flag, the Head of State of a foreign nation, a member of a reigning royal family and a former Head of State.

The country’s former Presidents, Deputy Presidents as well as former National Assembly Speaker and former Chief Justices are also invited to this important affair.

Their arrival to the Parliamentary precinct is followed by a procession of Parliament’s Presiding Officers, Deputy President David Mabuza and President Ramaphosa.

The President will take the national salute on a podium outside the National Assembly building, which includes the 21-gun salute. At the same time, a fly-past by the South African Air Force will take place.

In keeping with the character of an African Parliament, an Imbongi (praise singer) will lead President Ramaphosa into the National Assembly chamber.

In a country boasting 11 official languages, the principle of rotation has been implemented in order to afford all languages a fair and equal opportunity.

Praise singer Masingita Shibambu, who is also known as Ntombhi Ya Mutsonga from Matiyani Village in Limpopo’s Malamulele, will usher in the President with a Xitsonga poem.

Thursday’s SONA, which will take place within a strict budget, is the second in this financial year since the June address that was preceded by the 2019 Elections.

According to Parliament’s presiding officers, a total R7.3 million has been budgeted for both SONAs.

The June SONA, which also served as the official opening of the sixth democratic Parliament, cost the institution R2.6 million. 

Some aspects of the ceremony have been cut back to ensure Parliament is prudent with the budget. 

Among these, the dinner for MPs and guests - which has also been cancelled for the past few SONAs - will not take place.

Some ceremonial highlights, such as the civil guard of honour, eminent persons and the involvement of radio programme winners, has also been cut. 

SONA 2020 takes place in the week when the country marks the 30th anniversary of the release of former President Nelson Mandela from prison. President Mandela spent 27years of his life fighting for the end of Apartheid.

Mandela’s release from prison set the country in motion towards a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South