06 February 2020




1. What is the SONA?

It is an annual address given by the President to a joint session of Parliament and marks the official opening of the legislature. It is designed to be a report on the economic and social state of the nation, and includes a review of the past year and priorities for the current year. This is a special and unique occasion where all three arms of the state are in the same place together.

In a general election year, two State of the Nation Addresses are delivered.

This is the only item on the agenda for this special sitting and it is presided by both the Speaker of the National Assembly and the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces.

2. Time and place

SONA will be delivered on Thursday, February 13 at 19:00 to a prime time tv audience. Since 2010, SONA has been delivered in the evening to give more South Africans an opportunity to listen to the address. The setting is the same as always: the National Assembly Chamber.

3. Theme

The theme for this year is: “Following up on our commitments: making your future work better

4. What will the President say?

The speech will seek to build on previous speeches and commitments. The speech will also be an opportunity for the President to update the nation on progress made and layout his plans and vision to grow South Africa.

5. Who are the key guests at the State of the Nation Address?

Guests include former Presidents and Deputy Presidents, former presiding officers of Parliament, the judiciary, Premiers and Speakers of provincial legislatures, the heads of Chapter 9 institutions, religious leaders, business owners, trade unionists, school learners, civil society organisations, traditional leaders, members of the diplomatic corps and the Mayor of Cape Town. The President’s special guests include local and foreign people who have made a positive contribution to society and achieved extraordinary things. 

A total of 2021 guests from various categories have been invited for this event. The National Assembly gallery can only accommodate 720 people, so the overflow are accommodated in other parts of the parliamentary precinct.

6. Budget

The budget for SONA is set at R4,7 million. Parliament budgeted R7.3 million for the June 2019 SONA and the 2020 event. The 2019 June only cost R2.6m and it is expected that spending will be less than the budgeted amount.

There will be no post-Address dinner for MPs and guests. The reduction in the event marketing and the advertising budget has also boosted cost containment measures.

7. When do political parties get to respond to the SONA?

The debate on the State of the Nation Address will take place on 18 and 19 February. The President will reply to the debate on 20 February.

The debate allows the opposition to give a rebuttal to the President’s speech while those from the governing party defend the President and government's record and proposals.

8. What is the format of the ceremony?

The ceremony involves a mounted police escort and a military ceremonial motor escort, the lining of the President’s route to Parliament by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), a national salute by the Ceremonial Guard of the SANDF, a military band, a salute flight by the South African Air Force and a 21-gun salute.

Various aspects of the public participation elements have been cut back in order to save costs. Elements cut  include the junior and 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. Nine lucky winners of radio competition selected from each of our provinces to attend the joint sitting have also not been included for this event.

In keeping with tradition, an imbongi will be part of the procession when the President enters the chamber. Ms Masingita Shibambu from Matiyani Village, Malamulele in Limpopo, has been selected as Imbongi for this SONA, and will recite her poem in Xitsonga.

9. Where can I watch?

You can catch the live broadcast on SABC Radio, SABC TV, various other news broadcasting channels and Parliament TV (DSTV Channel 408). It will also be streamed on Parliament’s YouTube channel


About this blog

People's Assembly

"That week in Parliament" is a series of blog posts in which the important Parliamentary events of the week are discussed.

We host the latest posts of this blog, written by People's Assembly. You can find more on PA's blog.

Share this page: