The first State of the Nation Address (SONA) of the 6th Parliament will be a much more subdued affair, with a number of cost-saving measures announced by Parliament’s presiding officers.
One of them is that no imbongi (or praise singer) will usher President Cyril Ramaphosa into the chamber ahead of his address this year.
Parliament has budgeted around R2m for the address, well below the R9.2m spent on the SONA five years ago.
National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise said “we have budgeted just over R2m. That is the budget. That does not mean we want to expend all the money. I’m hoping that it does go down to below [R2m].”
“While various features that have traditionally characterised both the preparations and the actual SONA ceremonies have been modified for this address, the occasion will still preserve the decorum and solemnity of a key state event of this magnitude,” said National Assembly Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli on Thursday.
He said the modifications were made with the prevailing economic hardships that face most South Africans in mind, as well as expected unfavourable weather conditions.
Tsenoli added that they were mindful that the “ceremony takes place against the backdrop of a recent slump in our economy in the first three months of 2019, which Stats SA observed is the biggest quarterly fall in economic activity since the first quarter of 2009”.
It was reported that if South Africa’s economy contracts again in the next quarter of 2019, the country will enter a recession.
“Appropriate cost-cutting measures are thus necessary.”
Full ceremonial parade by SANDF
Some cost containment and cutting measures that Parliament has undertaken include limiting certain aspects of public participation and doing away with the post-address dinner for MPs. There has also been a “drastic” reduction in the event marketing and advertising budget.
Tsenoli confirmed that “…the junior guard and the civil guard who form a guard of honour for the state procession, the eminent persons, who are usually selected from provinces on the basis of their outstanding achievements in their respective fields, will also not be part of the ceremony”.
Following discussion with Ramaphosa, Parliament also decided to withdraw the imbongi which usually ushers presidents into the chamber ahead of the address.
“Nine lucky winners of a radio competition selected from each of our provinces to attend the joint sitting have also not been included for this event.”
Though there will be a full ceremonial parade of the South African National Defence Force, consisting of the Army, Navy and Airforce – including a salute flight by the Air Force – these additional costs are external and will be covered by the Department of Defence.
“The defence force might choose to do certain things or to cut down on certain things but it is their budget, it is their programme,” Modise said.