Parliament gets ready for Sona

2016-02-10 15:48

Cape Town - Parliament was a hive of activity on Wednesday, with dress rehearsals and final preparations for President Jacob Zuma's State of the Nation Address (SONA) taking place across the precinct.

"Nobody, nobody comes through that door," a police officer familiar from the student protests in the precinct last year told the officers gathered around him.

They will have their hands full, with at least three protests and the possible eviction of the Economic Freedom Fighters MPs.

Organisers of the "Zuma Must Fall" protest have permission for 5 000 participants, Ses'Khona People's Rights Movement have permission for 1 500 and the Democratic Alliance for 500.

Public Order Policing, National Intelligence, Presidential Protection Services, the Metro Police and the City of Cape Town were part of the discussions on measures to monitor these protests.

In spite of new rules for the National Assembly, the EFF have threatened to interject during Zuma's speech until he explains why he fired Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister last year.

The sudden replacement of Nene with the relatively unknown Des Van Rooyen and then a quick change to former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was seen as the cause of a sharp drop in the rand, which led to billions in losses.

The heightened tension around the Constitutional Court submissions on Tuesday over the public protector's report on how much of the R246m upgrades to his home in Nkandla the president should repay could also play out during the address.

'Eyes straight'

Last year, the EFF were thrown out after they refused to stop asking Zuma when he would pay back the money. They finally had their day in court on Tuesday.

The court was asked for clarity on the powers of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela and to order Zuma to pay back part of the money, in line with her recommendations.

During the application, a conditional proposal was tendered by Zuma and the court is yet to rule on it.

ANC Youth League president Collen Maine has also stepped into the fray, warning there would be clashes if there were any disruptions in Parliament, but he has been called to order by the ANC.

Meanwhile, a military platoon rehearsed its right turns, left turns and quick marches for the solemn guard of honour they will form for Zuma at the imposing entrance to the National Assembly.

"Eyes straight," barked their commanding officer, as bakkies rattled past bearing the makings of the ceremony which is being run on a trimmed-down budget of around R3.6m.

Few could resist a quick selfie with the bust of Nelson Mandela, the first president to address a democratically elected Parliament.

Afterwards, they paused to read the inscription: "What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived; It is the difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead."

The red carpet was also being rolled out - regarded as a stabiliser for the women planning to wear stiletto heels around the cobbled precinct.

Trucks carried in white iceberg roses, green strappy irises and other greenery that woild be set up along the route inside the precinct.

There were hugs and handshakes in the queue for the coveted accreditation tags as politicians, diplomats, support staff and an estimated 800 journalists lined up.

Extra security scanners were already in place and sniffer dogs were put though their paces as their handlers completed yet another security sweep.

Earlier in the week, a team of explosives experts systematically checked and sealed all the drains and grates, checking each off on a list on a clip board.

Parliament's art collection is bound to be a conversation starter during any awkward moments - especially the remains of a stone unicorn at one of the entrances.

Fruit sellers to lose a day's trade

The unicorn was removed from the stonework of the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, England, and given to the Union Parliament by the European Parliamentary Association, according to the commemorative stone laid in 1935.

White broadcast and reception tents with fake window panes were held in place with heavy concrete weights to keep them stable during Cape Town's strong winds.

Live broadscasts were expected on SABC and private channels such as eNCA, and would also be streamed live on Parliament's website.

The secretary to Parliament, Gengezi Mgidlana, has said that he did not anticipate any disruptions to broadcasts or the signal jamming that blocked internet connections in Parliament last year.

Most of the area around Parliament would be closed for SONA, which means peanut and fruit sellers like Craig and Gary Abrahams will lose a day's trade.

"I just bought enough fruit for today, otherwise it will go off," said Craig.

His brother, Gary, who sells peanuts for tourists to feed to the Company's Garden squirrels, said he would have to budget carefully for the rest of the week to cover the losses.

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