Star turn for Parliament opening

2012-02-07 14:56

Cape Town - The theme for Parliament's opening this week is inspired by South Africa's bid to become the site for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope, Speaker Max Sisulu said on Tuesday.

The ceremony, including President Jacob Zuma's state of the nation address, is set for Thursday evening.

"The knowledge economy and development opportunities" is the slogan for this year's opening.

Sisulu told a media briefing at Parliament there was "one reason only" for choosing such a theme - that South Africa, allied with eight other African countries, had bid to become the site for the SKA.

A decision on the location of the SKA core site - either in Australia or South Africa - is expected to be made by the international consortium behind the €1.5bn project in April.

Sisulu said that if the proposed Karoo site in the Northern Cape was chosen for the SKA, this would have a huge and positive impact on technology, mathematics, and science in South Africa.

Astronomers say the giant instrument, a widespread array of about 3 000 separate satellite dishes, will give them valuable insights into the formation of the universe, the nature of gravity, and possibly even life beyond our solar system.

Public’s expectations

But expectations from the South African public on what they want Zuma to tell them in his speech on Thursday, are far more down to earth.

"Jobs, jobs, jobs," Sisulu said, responding to a question at the briefing on what he thought the main thrust of this year's state of the nation address would be.

"Jobs, job creation, and the growth of the economy," he added.

Zuma's address will be made against a backdrop of world economic turmoil, vast international debt, and stratospheric levels of local unemployment, officially pegged at about 25%.

Thursday's opening ceremony will get going late on Thursday afternoon, with Zuma scheduled to deliver his speech at 19:00.

The route Zuma will take to Parliament will be lined by the SA National Defence Force. He will have a mounted police and military motor escort.

Mbeki, De Klerk, Ginwala to attend opening

The president will be greeted by an imbongi praise singer at the institution's gates, while another will herald his entry into the National Assembly, where MPs from both Houses will be gathered.

Parliament said confirmation that they would attend the event had been received from former presidents Thabo Mbeki and FW De Klerk, former deputy president Baleka Mbete, former parliamentary speaker Frene Ginwala, and former chief justice Pius Langa.

As in previous years, there will be a 21-gun salute and a fly-past by the SA Air Force.

The content of Zuma's address is expected to be largely informed by last month's Cabinet lekgotla, which, among other things, assessed progress made on the so-called New Growth Path job drivers.

Weather conditions

These include infrastructure development, agriculture, mining and beneficiation, manufacturing, the green economy, and tourism.

Zuma will no doubt also touch on the history of his ruling party, which turned 100 this year. The president himself will turn 70 on April 12.

No rain is forecast for the opening, a matter of some concern for MPs, many of whom don traditional dress, or deck themselves out in the latest fashions, for their turn to work up the long red carpet rolled out down Parliament Avenue.

According to the SA Weather Service, Thursday will be cloudy with 37km/h south-westerly winds and a high of 24°C.