The Speaker of the National Assembly, Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, met with the media today to brief them on preparations for the 2024 State of the Nation Address (SONA), which will take place in Cape Town’s City Hall on 8 February at 7 pm.

The Speaker took the opportunity to remind her listeners of Parliament’s commitment to uphold South Africans’ trust in the country’s democracy, a resolve reflected in the solemnity and importance of the occasion. She also spent some time remarking on South Africa’s 30-year-old democracy and a year that will see the end of the sixth parliamentary administration and the beginning of the seventh, after the national and provincial elections to be held in the first half of 2024, which will usher in a new generation of parliamentarians.

The Speaker pointed out Parliament’s place at the heart of South Africa’s democratic transformation, which has freed South Africans from the yoke of institutionalised racism by entrenching the principles of democracy, human rights, non-racialism, non-sexism, and the ideals of nation-building. This has been supplemented by robust modes of accountability that Parliament has enacted to hold the executive accountable for their actions.  

“This commitment to transparency and participatory democracy has been evident in our approach to governance,” the Speaker said, “with open plenaries, committee meetings, and numerous public involvement initiatives.” She also admitted that journey had not been without challenges, but it was through these challenges that Parliament and South Africa more broadly as matured and strengthened its resolve to build a united and prosperous nation.

Explaining the schedule of events for the evening, the Speaker reminded the media that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s speech is the sole item on the agenda. This will be followed by a two-day joint debate on his address, and he then has an opportunity to reply to issues raised in the debates.

Thereafter, the sixth Parliament will prioritise finalising any outstanding Bills, a process that should be finished before the dissolution of the current Parliament in the run-up to the elections and the swearing-in of the new cohort of parliamentarians. 

As always, the 2024 SONA’s proceedings will include the full ceremonial format of previous years. The activities include a 21-gun salute, an aircraft fly-past, a ceremonial guard, the step guard salute, the singing of the national anthem, a full military band, and ceremonial processions involving provincial Speakers, Premiers, the judiciary, the Deputy President, and the President.

Public involvement in the SONA proceedings has been reinstated, Ms Mapisa-Nqakula said. This includes the junior guard of honour and eminent persons. The former comprise 100 learners, selected from four schools in the Western Cape. Including them in the proceedings introduces them to the principles of democracy and the institutions that uphold it, while fostering an informed and responsible citizenship, the Speaker said.

The eminent persons, who are nominated by provincial Speakers, comprise distinguished South Africans who have achieved outstanding results in their fields, or who have been otherwise recognised for their contributions to society.

Ms Mapisa-Nqakula also mentioned the important role the media play in publicising the event. “Media coverage enhances public engagement, fostering transparency and the broadening of access to parliamentary proceedings,” she said.

As in preceding years, the President will be ushered into the National Assembly by this year’s praise singer, Ms Senziwe Hatty Maliba, a 24-year-old from the Nkomazi in Mpumalanga. Senziwe is a versatile artist with multiple talents, including radio presenter, MC, and voice-over artist.

For the first time in the history of the democratic parliament, the 2024 SONA proceedings will be conducted under new rules designed to regulate proceedings during joint sittings of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces. “These rules, set to be implemented for the first time during this State of the Nation Address, are an essential step in ensuring that proceedings, including the SONA and the Opening of Parliament, are conducted with the respect and seriousness they deserve,” Ms Mapisa-Nqakula said.

She explained that new rules state, “No member is allowed to interrupt the President while delivering the State of the Nation Address. Similarly, interruptions are prohibited during the President’s speech at the Opening of Parliament.”

She further called on South Africans to actively participate in SONA by tuning in and expressing their views on the various communication platforms provided by Parliament, the government, and the media. Ms Mapisa-Nqakula urged South Africans, “to witness, discuss and reflect on the state of our nation, as we continue to build a more inclusive, prosperous, and resilient South Africa.”

SONA will be broadcast live on radio and TV and will be streamed live on Parliament’s website, the DStv channel (408) and its YouTube channel.

Abel Mputing
6 February 2024