SONA | The pomp, the savings, the imbongi and the threats

Military personnel on a practice march Tuesday evening, ahead of Thursday's State of the Nation Address.
Military personnel on a practice march Tuesday evening, ahead of Thursday's State of the Nation Address.
Jan Gerber

If Tuesday evening's preparations for the State of the Nation Address (SONA) is anything to go by, the reduced costs of this year's event will not lead to a reduction in military pomp.

Bagpipes blared and soldiers marched to the beat of a drum line on Plein Street. Military personnel also marched inside the parliamentary precinct, while a variety of technicians were busy with preparations for Thursday evening.

The branding recently placed at Parliament also makes it clear what it is celebrating this year: Former president Nelson Mandela's release from prison 30 years ago.

Parliament will be expecting an approximate 2 000 guests.


The branding on the Parliamentary precinct celebrates former president Nelson Mandela's release from prison 30 years ago. (Jan Gerber, News24)

The cost cutting

The SONA in June last year, the first of the Sixth Parliament, cost R2.6m.

The budget for SONA 2020 is R2.1m, but the acting secretary to Parliament, Baby Tyawa, said last week she expected the cost would be less.

So, where do the savings come from?

  • As with recent SONAs, there will be no dinner for MPs and guests.
  • The junior and civil guard of honour will not be there.
  • Fewer eminent persons were invited.
  • Radio programme winners will not be involved.
  • Less spending on advertising and branding.

The imbongi

Like previous years, there will once again be an imbongi who will recite a poem as the presidential procession enters the National Assembly chamber.

This year's imbongi will be Masingita Shibambu, also known as Ntombhi Ya Mutsonga, from Matiyani Village in Malamulele, Limpopo, who will recite a poem in Xitsonga.

Languages for poetry are considered on a rotational basis to give all South African languages a fair and equal opportunity.

Threats of disruption

As was customary during the Fifth Parliament, the EFF is heading to SONA threatening to disrupt proceedings. With former president Jacob Zuma out of the picture, it has turned its wrath on Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan against whom it has had a vendetta since late 2018, around about the time its own financial dealings came under scrutiny in the wake of the VBS Bank scandal.

Over the weekend, EFF leader Julius Malema repeated the party's earlier threat it would not allow President Cyril Ramaphosa to speak if Gordhan was still in his Cabinet post come Thursday evening.

Last week, National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise said there would only be one item on the agenda - Ramaphosa's address to both houses of Parliament - and the rules for joint sittings would be enforced to ensure that it proceeded.

On Tuesday morning, the EFF issued a statement claiming Parliament would deploy police officers dressed in white and black, which it previously referred to as the "white shirts", to fill the ranks of parliamentary protection officials.

In 2016, the Constitutional Court ruled it was unconstitutional for police officers to remove MPs from the chamber.

Parliament has dismissed the EFF's claims as a distraction and "conspiracy theories".

After EFF MP Marshall Dlamini was caught on video slapping a police officer after last February's SONA, the EFF claimed there was a plot to assassinate Malema, with a right-wing group having infiltrated the police.

Despite this grave threat to his life, he appeared on the steps outside the National Assembly addressing the media with a big smile.

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