South Africa’s new President Cyril Ramaphosa is set to present his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) this evening, a day which officially signifies the beginning of a new era for the country. Fresh from being sworn in as the new President following Jacob Zuma’s resignation on Wednesday, 14 February, former Deputy President Ramaphosa is expected to outline a new path for the country as it races to implement the National Development Plan (NDP).
For many, the event decisively marks the start of a new chapter after weeks of uncertainty, which was quelled by the governing party’s decision to recall Zuma as Head of State – a move it said would create stability for the Republic.
Ramaphosa was sworn in on Thursday by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng during a ceremony widely viewed as historic in South African politics. Despite the eventful period leading up to Ramaphosa’s assumption of high office, his delivery of the State of the Nation Address was perhaps always going to be remarkable, as 2018 is the year of the centenary anniversary of the birth of South Africa’s first democratically elected President, the late Nelson Mandela.
In paying homage to the life and legacy of this remarkable South African and father of the nation, who is revered around the world, Parliament has decided that the theme that will inspire and guide its work during the year is ‘Making your future work better - learning from Madiba’.
SONA traditions and ceremony - Preparations for SONA are well underway, for what is known as the most inclusive day in the political and parliamentary calendar - the joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament. A total of 1 120 guests have been invited to form part of this important occasion.
The day brings together the three arms of the State: the executive, the judiciary and the legislature – who will play out their constitutional roles in full view of the nation.
From the red carpet, mounted police escort, military ceremonial motor escort, the lining of the President’s route by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), a national salute, military band to a fly-past and a 21-gun salute, the day is colourful and also sees ordinary citizens, especially children, participating.
Proceedings at Parliament start at around 16.30. This will see members of the judiciary, Speakers of Provincial Legislatures, Premiers and diplomats arrive at the Company Gardens entrance (in Government Avenue) to the Old Assembly. Junior and civil guards of honour and eminent persons take up positions on both sides of the red carpet along Parliament Street from the entrance to the Parliamentary precinct.
The junior guard of honour comprises students from schools that have represented South Africa or their province at international, national, provincial or local level competitions in the areas of sports, arts, cultural activities or any other competition that has helped to positively profile the country, province or locality.
Invited eminent South Africans are drawn from the provinces and are individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the country. Former Presidents, former Deputy Presidents, the former National Assembly Speaker and former Chief Justices are also invited. Their arrival to the Parliamentary precinct is followed by a procession of Premiers, Speakers of Provincial Legislatures, judiciary, Parliament’s Presiding Officers, Deputy President and the President.
The President will take the national salute on a podium outside the National Assembly building (at 18.55), which includes the 21-gun salute. A fly-past by the South African Air Force takes place at the same time. The 21-gun salute became the international norm for the highest honour a nation rendered 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 President will then be ushered into the National Assembly with a performance from an imbongi (praise poet).The President is expected to deliver his address in the National Assembly Chamber at 19.00. Ordinary South Africans can watch the entire proceedings live on their televisions, at public viewing sites in the provinces and listen on radio.