13 February 2015
As has become tradition, President Jacob Zuma invited several special guests to his State of the Nation Address (Sona), delivered on 12 February. The night is one of pomp and circumstance that signifies the opening of parliament for the year, and the start of government business after the annual holiday.
“I would like you to join me in congratulating my special guest, our ace Olympic swimmer Chad Le Clos,” Zuma said, to much applause.
“Chad received swimming’s highest honour in December after he was crowned the world’s best swimmer for 2014, by the International Swimming Federation, amongst many other outstanding achievements.”
Earlier in 2014, Le Clos became the first man to be named Fina’s Swimming World Cup series winner for the third time, collecting 27 gold medals along the way. Le Clos is also the first swimmer to go unbeaten throughout a World Cup series and also the first swimmer to win all the butterfly events.
Zuma also spoke of three special girls from Moletsane High School in Soweto, whom he was hosting. “They are Ofentse Mahasha, Hlengiwe Moletsane and Tiisetso Mashiloane. Ofentse and Hlengiwe attended the last G20 summit in Australia and performed exceptionally well, making us truly proud.”
The three won a school essay competition on the importance of the G20 for both South Africa and Australia. They were chosen by the Australian government to attend the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Brisbane in November 2014.
“One of these learners told me, ‘If you decide you want to be something, you must work hard and put your eyes on it.’ She wants to be the president of South Africa,” Zuma said.
Another South African making the country proud was not in the house, but was remembered by the president: “Allow me also. to congratulate in absentia, another star performer who has brought glory to our country, Miss World, Miss Rolene Strauss.”
Zuma’s fifth special guest at his Sona was another athlete. “I would also like to introduce another special guest, the country’s Sports Star of the Year and Banyana Banyana striker, Miss Portia Modise. Congratulations Portia,” he said.
While most South Africans were only able to watch the event on television, they were not forgotten, with the president thanking all of those who took their time to contribute to Sona 2015 following his request for input from citizens about what they would like to hear from him.
“In terms of the inputs, our people are concerned about, amongst others, crime, roads, access to education, youth internship schemes, water, electricity and support for small businesses. Contributions requiring feedback are being referred to government departments for action.”
Turning to agriculture, “a catalyst for growth and food security”, Zuma spoke of the government’s work with the private sector to develop an Agricultural Policy Action Plan. In doing so, he also welcomed another of his special guests, the winner of the 2014 Agriculture Female Entrepreneur Award, Nokwanele Mzamo, from Kirkwood in the Eastern Cape.
Previously known as the Female Farmer of the Year and initiated in 1999, the awards seek to encourage and increase the participation of women, youth and people with disabilities in agriculture. The major thrust of the programme is to underline the fact that women play a significant role in food security, job creation, economic growth and poverty alleviation.
Mzamo scooped the award for the Top Entrepreneur in the Sector: Export Market, making her the overall winner. The 44-year-old and 58 other beneficiaries established the Luthando Farm, in the Sunday River valley, in 2003.
The farm produces seasonal crops and citrus fruit that are exported to the Middle East, Europe, United Kingdom, Russia, Canada and China. It produces about 220 579 cartons of export citrus.
Zuma’s final special guest was Mapule Phokompe from Mahikeng in North West, the winner of the Women in Water conservation awards. “At our tea yesterday, Ms Phokompe [explained to me] why Mafikeng is now called Mahikeng. I now know,” he said.
The president had met his special guests for a high tea in the afternoon of 11 February, before the Sona. Also at the tea was the chairperson of Brand South Africa, Chichi Maponya.
In introducing Phokompe, he urged all residents of South Africa to conserve water. “Every drop counts. The country loses R7-billion a year to water losses.”
The Department of Water and Sanitation encouraged the involvement of women’s organisations from the rural areas to devise practical ways of conserving water and producing food. The Mosadi Tshwene project, led by Phokompe, from the water- scarce Disaneng Village in Mahikeng, topped the Water Conservation Category in the 2014 Women in Water Awards competition by practising the best water conservation method in the production of vegetables.
“We believe the opening of parliament and the State of the Nation Address is an event for all South Africans because parliament is an institution of the people and we therefore want people to visit parliament to feel part of it,” Zuma said before his address.
“That’s why every year we invite special guests of the president on the strength of the good work that they do in the development and promotion of our country and the sacrifices each has made for South Africa.”
The guests were chosen for representing the country in various sectors on the international stage. “We also invite the families of late struggle heroes and heroines to see the good work and contribution of their family members.”
In a break from tradition, for the first time a female praise singer introduced the Sona, Kgato Welminah Masemola of Ga-Marishane village in Limpopo. The imbongi is a community leader and sews traditional Sepedi dresses and does traditional bead work.