SONA 2021 tech kicks up a notch as it goes virtual

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
Johannesburg, 28 Jan 2021

Unlike previous years, the 2021 State of the Nation Address (SONA) will be mostly virtual in nature, without its usualthrills and spills.

This is the announcement made by Parliament's presiding officers, explaining this year’s event will take the form of a hybrid joint sitting in strict adherence to the National State of Disaster regulations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

South Africa is currentlyexperiencing a second wave of coronavirus infections, which has resulted in the country moving to the adjusted level three lockdown regulations. The country has a total of over 1.4 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, with the total number of deaths at 42 550 and recoveries at over 1.2 million, to date.

The presiding officers revealed that president Cyril Ramaphosa will physically deliver the SONA from the National Assembly chamber on Thursday, 11 February, at 7pm.

They added that no more than 50 members of Parliament, representatives from the judiciary and the executive will be in the physical chamber, with the rest of this category connecting virtually.

“Other categories that will virtually form part of this important event include premiers, speakers and other special delegates representing provinces in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), eminent persons, diplomatic corps, distinguished guests and members of the public.”

SONA is a ceremonial joint sitting of the two houses of Parliament, called specifically for the president's State of the Nation Address. The sitting is presided over jointly by the National Assembly speaker and the NCOP chairperson under the applicable joint rules of Parliament.

It is an opportunity for the president to speak to the nation on the general state of SA, to reflect on a wide range of political, economic and social matters within the domestic and global contexts, to account to the nation on the work of government and to set out government's programme of action for the coming year.

Furthermore, the president makes key government announcements during the joint sitting.

Due to its hybrid nature, the presiding officers said SONA 2021 will cost a minimum of the earmarked budget of R2.2 million.

The presiding officers stated they envisage the expected “significant” savings to be redirected to modernising the technological capabilities of Parliament.

National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise explained: “We don’t want to spend R2 million, we don’t want to spend a cent of that money at all because we’ve got other needs. We are saying this is the money that was budgeted for. We think the most we will spend on it will be the amount the webinar will cost us.”

Acting secretary to Parliament Baby Tyawa added: “We won’t spend anything close to a million. It has been indicated that what we need to invest in, which we’ve already started, is the modernisation of Parliament. We really need to boost our ICTs and our connectivity. ”

The public can watch the live stream of the address via social media platforms, Parliamentary television, Parliament’s YouTube channels, as well as the live broadcast on radio and television.