Parliament expects order at its R6.5m state of the nation address

06 February 2024 - 14:41
By Andisiwe Makinana
Parliament bosses are hoping for order at this year’s Sona thanks to strict new rules which will be implemented for the first time on Thursday. File photo.
Image: Anton Scholtz Parliament bosses are hoping for order at this year’s Sona thanks to strict new rules which will be implemented for the first time on Thursday. File photo.

It's all systems go for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s last state of the nation address (Sona) of his first term of office, which is scheduled for Thursday evening.

Parliament bosses are hoping for order and no disruptions at this year’s event thanks to strict new rules adopted in December which will be implemented for the first time on Thursday.

In terms of the new rules, designed to regulate proceedings during joint sittings of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, no member is allowed to interrupt the president while he is delivering an address. Similarly, interruptions are prohibited during the president's speech at the opening of parliament, which is the first sitting of the two houses after an election.

The new rules also stipulate no other business may be considered during a joint sitting other than the specific business for which the sitting is convened.

“These measures are critical in ensuring these important national events are conducted in an orderly and respectful manner, reflecting the dignity of parliament and the importance of these addresses in setting the nation's legislative and developmental agenda,” National Assembly speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said on Tuesday.

She said the primary aim of the new rules was maintaining order and decorum in the chamber, promoting civility among members, and ensuring the proceedings are conducted with the respect and seriousness they deserve.

The EFF, whose top leadership including party leader Julius Malema is barred from Thursday’s events, are challenging the legality of the rules at the high court in Cape Town.

Malema, his deputy and party chief whip Floyd Shivambu, Marshall Dlamini, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, Sinawo Tambo and Vuyani Pambo are suspended from parliament after they stormed the stage when Ramaphosa was delivering his speech during last year’s event.

They had to be forcibly removed by balaclava-clad police officers in camouflage uniform.

Parliament’s powers and privileges committee found the EFF MPs guilty of contempt of parliament for defying Mapisa-Nqakula’s order to leave the chamber during the disruption.

For this year's Sona, parliament has reinstated “a critical element of public participation”, namely the involvement of the junior guard of honour and eminent people.

The junior guard of honour will consist of 100 pupils selected from four schools in the Western Cape — Eros School, the Centre of Science and Technology, Mfuleni Technical Academy and Fairmount Secondary School — which were chosen in collaboration with the Western Cape department of education.

The imbongi (praise singer) who will usher President Cyrl Ramaphosa into the house is Senziwe Maliba, a 24-year-old woman from Nkomazi municipality in Mpumalanga

The eminent people are distinguished South Africans who have achieved outstanding results in their respective fields or have been recognised for their contributions to society. They are nominated by provincial speakers to be guests of parliament for the Sona.

Parliament will hold the event at the Cape Town City Hall for the third time after a fire razed the National Assembly chamber, and has budgeted R6.5m for this year’s event.

As is the norm, parliament has invited former heads of state and former presiding officers among the dignitaries expected to attend and all three living former presidents, Thabo Mbeki, Kgalema Montlanthe and Jacob Zuma, have confirmed receipt of the invitation.

The imbongi (praise singer) who will usher Ramaphosa into the house is Senziwe Maliba, a 24-year-old woman from Nkomazi municipality in Mpumalanga.

The choice of language for the imbongi is determined through a rotational selection process, and SiSwati is the language for this occasion, said Mapisa-Nqakula.

She announced that for the first-time parliament has partnered with Proudly South Africa for this year's Sona in support of the local fashion industry by urging MPs and guests to wear locally produced attire.

“The campaign aims to increase appreciation and visibility for local designers and their creations, and to provide momentum for the growth of the fashion business,” she said.

“This initiative goes beyond mere fashion appreciation. It seeks to connect consumers with the rich stories culture, and creativity inherent in South African fashion, thereby fostering a sense of pride in local craftsmanship.”

Mapisa-Nqakula said the partnership has far-reaching implications for the country's economy and fashion industry. Encouraging public representatives and guests to don local designs sends a powerful message of support for local business, which is crucial for economic growth, job creation and addressing issues of inequality and poverty.

No such luck for Cape Town’s informal traders, whose working hours and space are curtailed by the event.

Mapisa-Nqakula expressed “deep gratitude” for the traders' support of the event and their collaborative efforts in finding a solution that allows for the coexistence of the parliament precincts alongside their businesses.

“In our discussions with the informal traders’ association, representing vendors around City Hall, we reached a consensus aimed at ensuring minimal disruption to their trading activities. This agreement will enable them to continue operating during the post-Sona debate, the president's reply, and the budget speech scheduled for February 21.”