Sex slips into Sona – the lighter moments

It happened 11 pages into President Jacob Zuma's State of the Nation speech.

"To promote inclusivity and diversity, the South African sign language curriculum will be offered in schools from sex … next year."

Maybe it was the Freudian slip, or the reference to the fake interpreter at Nelson Mandela's memorial service. Or maybe it was the combination that caused the house to collapse in laughter, including Zuma's trademark "heh heh heh" as he struggled to contain his own mirth. 

The sign language interpreter for the occasion, however, remained stone-faced. 

The country's State of the Nation was not all giggles but there were plenty of light moments through out the event. 

As public protector Thuli Madonsela said when asked about her choice of a soft gold gown: "I just felt light-hearted."

She arrived on the red carpet ahead of the event along with other political heayweights. There were also a fair share of lightweights who could be counted on to make an early appearance for the media waiting in their roped off areas. 

Former government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi discovered the secret to instant celebrity status when he did just that, causing a minor stir among bored photographers. His wife Stella Manyi was one of the most elegantly understated woman present, dressed in a simple black dress belted at the waist, paired with a head turban with gold accents. 

Then there was the Democratic Alliance (DA) contingent. National spokesperson and leader Helen Zille's new favourite young hotshot Mmusi Maimane buzzed around the red carpet. "This is terrible," he exclaimed with glee at the paparazzi-like photographers, while effortlessly striking one pose after another. 

But it was another DA man below the radar that turned heads. Photos of DA finance spokesperson Tim Harris caused a minor collective swoon on Twitter and Instagram, with fans dubbing him the spokesperson of "fineness". 

'The in colour'
​Zille herself wore a pale green gown with elaborate beading. "Apparently it's the in-colour this year," she said when asked about the choice. One twitter user was less charitable however, and quipped she was declaring an early loss to the ANC by wearing their colours. But Zille's true blue colours are never far away and her shoes and handbag flaunted her party's colours. 

Leader of the opposition Lindiwe Mazibuko almost stole the show in a fitted silver-white ballgown by local designer Kat van Duinen, and dramatic make-up. She was inspired by "old Hollywood", she said and felt like being more glamorous. Or maybe she was making her mark on her job, what with Maimane supposedly waiting in the wings. But the two posed amicably together for the photographers, and not even Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi's wife stepping on her train accidentally could get her down. 

But it was another Lindiwe who made the more dramatic appearance. Public Service Minister Lindiwe Sisulu's choice of a floor-length white dress and black gloves prompted an outpouring of Twitter admiration. 

The social media folk were also pretty taken with Mandla Mandela's traditional garb. Nelson Mandela's oldest grandson usually appears at the State of the Nation address, and plenty of other official events, in traditional Xhosa attire. This year his choice of turquoise and white, with his wife in a matching outfit, won the hearts of the watching public, with his grandfather's death in December still fresh on their minds. 

Then there was the moment an SAA pilot wandered on to the stage, causing a bit of confusion. It turned out to be Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba, celebrating one of the parastatals under his leadership. It would be great if he was starting a trend: perhaps he'll come as a beleaguered Eskom worker next year.

But actual Eskom boss Brian Dames was all smiles after the speech, singing his organisation's praises in delivering electricity to the people. Or maybe he's just excited about stepping down from his job as chief executive soon. 

The sun set as the last few MPs made their way inside the house and the red carpet cleared the way for the president's procession. And when we emerged again, after a rather middling speech focusing mostly on the successes of the last 20 years, the wind had picked up, whipping weaves across glossy lips and tearing at dress hems. But the politicians lingered and talked to the political journalists turned paparazzi for a little longer before they made their way to the gala dinner at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.

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Verashni Pillay
Verashni Pillay is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, and inaugural editor-in chief of Huffington Post South Africa. She has worked at various periods as senior reporter covering politics and general news, specialises in mediamanagement and relishes the task of putting together the right team to create compelling and principled journalism across multiple platforms.

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