President Jacob Zuma will deliver his sixth State of the Nation Address during a joint sitting of Parliament in Cape Town this evening. More than just a speech, Sona sets the agenda for how the country will be governed over the year ahead, making commitments to the nation that Parliament is obliged to ensure the government keeps.
The State of the Nation Address is one of the rare occasions where the three arms of state, the executive (government), the legislature (Parliament) and the judiciary (the courts) gather in one place. (Image: Department of Communications)
What is the State of the Nation Address?
- The State of the Nation Address is a speech to the nation by the president of the Republic of South Africa as head of state. It is delivered at the annual opening of Parliament to a joint sitting of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces.
- In the State of the Nation Address, the president sets out the government’s key policy objectives and deliverables for the year ahead, setting out the basis for executive action during the calendar.
- Since the opening of the first democratic Parliament in 1994, the tone of the State of the Nation Address has been inclusive, joyful and informal. The opening of Parliament has become an opportunity to showcase the country’s cultural diversity and a chance for ordinary citizens, especially children, to become part of this nationally important day.
- It is one of the rare occasions where the three arms of state, the executive (government), the legislature (Parliament) and the judiciary (the courts) gather in one place.
- The executive is represented by the president, deputy president and ministers.
- The other spheres of government are represented by provincial premiers and local government officials.
- The judiciary is represented by the country’s chief justice and the judge presidents.
- The legislature is represented by the presiding officers and members of Parliament.
- Members of the public are also invited to attend the State of the Nation Address and take part in the occasion as the civilian guard.
Why is the State of the Nation Address important?
- The address is the yearly occasion when the president sets out government’s key policy objectives and deliverables for the year ahead. It lays the foundation for executive action.
- In the address, the President highlights the achievements and problems of the past year and maps the year ahead and beyond.
- The State of the Nation Address also focuses on the government’s programme of action for the future.
- The address covers wide-ranging political, economic and social matters and considers the general state of South Africa.
- It explores South Africa’s domestic affairs as well as its continental and international relations.
- The State of the Nation Address is an important way for the government to account to Parliament and South African citizens for what has happened over the past year, and to inform and involve the public in the political agenda of the coming year.
What is the link between the State of the Nation Address and the oversight function of Parliament?
- Oversight is a function granted to Parliament in terms of the Constitution – chapter 4, section 55 – to monitor and oversee government actions at national, provincial and local level.
- The State of the Nation Address is one of the benchmarks against which Parliament holds government accountable to the people for what it delivers on and how the allocated budget is spent.
- Since the President sets out the government’s programme of action for the coming year, the address provides Parliament with a yardstick against which to measure government’s performance.
- When performing its oversight function, Parliament focuses on how laws are implemented, how budgets have been applied, whether government departments are being effectively managed, and whether government has done what it said it would do.
The State of the Nation Address and the Budget
- The State of the Nation Address precedes the Budget Speech of the minister of finance. The Budget is therefore in line with the priorities outlined in the president’s speech.
- Towards the end of February, the minister of finance introduces the Budget for the coming year.
- The budgets of government departments are allocated according to the priorities set out in the State of the Nation Address.
- The Budget is a significant tool of oversight, holding the government accountable for how public funds are spent.
- The 2015 State of the Nation Address will begin at 19h00 on Thursday 12 February 2015. It will be broadcast live on national television and radio. A live stream via YouTube will also be available.
- The State of the Nation Address is broken down into three parts. The first is public participation when the civilian guard of honour welcomes the president and his guests as they walk along the red carpet. This is followed by a state ceremony which includes a 21-gun salute and Air Force flypast. Finally, the president delivers his address to Parliament.
- Members of the South African National Defence Force line the route that the President takes to Parliament.
- The military guard of honour also participates in the ceremony and the military band plays South Africa’s national anthem.