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Parliament promises ‘no fanciful things’ at a Sona sans bling

This is what the address, for which R1.9m has been budgeted, will look like. However, the cost could ‘come down’

Amanda Khoza Presidency reporter
National Assembly speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula says it's too late to change Sona plans.
THE HORSE HAS BOLTED National Assembly speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula says it's too late to change Sona plans.
Image: Gallo Images/Rapport/Deaan Vivier

The State of the Nation Address (Sona), which marks the official start of the parliamentary calendar, will take place without the usual “razzmatazz”.

On February 10 President Cyril Ramaphosa will deliver the address at the same venue former president Nelson Mandela made his first address to the nation after being released from prison on February 11 1990 — the Cape Town city hall.

This is after a January 2 fire gutted the national assembly building, including the chamber where official sittings of the assembly and joint sittings of both houses of parliament are held.

Details of what is expected on the day were outlined during a joint programming committee meeting of the national assembly and national council of provinces on Thursday morning. 

In his report to MPs, secretary to the national assembly Masibulele Xaso said in compliance with Covid-19 regulations, only 300 MPs from both houses will attend.

Guests will include members of the judiciary, legislature, executive, premiers and speakers of provinces, with the remainder of members attending virtually. Former presidents and heads of Chapter Nine institutions will also be invited.

Ramaphosa will be ushered in by a Setswana praise singer and, in honour of those who died of Covid-19 in 2021, there is a proposal for a lantern-lighting ceremony in the foyer of the city hall. 

Doctors, paramedics and a mobile clinic will be on standby in case of an emergency, said Xaso. 

On the budget, Xaso said: “The figure is around R1.9m at the moment, but that figure is being refined and could go down.” 

Regarding the costs involved, the IFP’s Narend Singh said: “Last year we had a very lean and mean Sona ... We would suggest that there should be no undue razzmatazz and additional expense that went with Sona three years ago.” 

Deputy speaker Lechesa Tsenoli agreed, saying there were “fanciful things that perhaps we can do without. Given the environment we are operating in, that is absolutely necessary, so there is no question about it.”

On security on the day, MPs were told that the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS) was scheduled to meet on Thursday to discuss matters.

“What we are able to confirm is that everything possible is being done to ensure that there is proper security for that day and meetings have been taking place between ourselves and the security people. Everything is being done to ensure the event is properly secured.”

Xaso said there would be search parks and MPs would leave their vehicles at parliament and be shuttled to the venue. 

The EFF’s Floyd Shivambu asked for clarity on the number of people that would be permitted to attend the address saying, “We are of the view that in the current Covid-19 regulations and lockdown it is permissible to have 1,000 people in an indoor facility and 2,000 outdoors.

“We might need to agree in principle that if we are going to convene parliament in a venue that is capable of accommodating all members of parliament, then all members of parliament must be called to attend the Sona and the debates thereafter.” 

This, he said, would demonstrate to society that parliament was entering a different phase in terms of managing the pandemic. “Members of parliament must lead from the front,” he said. 

Tsenoli told Shivambu the number was agreed upon to comply with Covid-19 regulations. 

The ANC’s Pemmy Majodina told MPs that under normal circumstances the city hall could accommodates about 900 people. “But with Covid regulations we had to work out and meet the Covid requirements, hence the number is 300, so it is impossible to have all the members.” 

She said other venues had been considered before settling on the city hall. 

“We also looked at the financial implications of that and that is why we resorted to the city hall. It was ideal to get all members of parliament, but unfortunately, due to office space, venue and capacity, we are unable to get all of them.” 

The EFF’s Hlengiwe Mkhaliphi suggested the venue be changed to accommodate all MPs. However national assembly speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said preparations for Sona were at an advanced stage and could not be amended.

“A lot of work has gone into the Sona preparations that we have agreed as political parties.” 

Mapisa-Nqakula said the most suitable and cheapest venue was the city hall.

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