In the streets around Parliament, a frenetic energy of last minute rehearsals, jets screeching across the sky and officials dressed in carefully prepared uniforms beckon the official curtain raiser of government business in 2019: the State of the Nation address (Sona).
On Thursday evening at 7pm, President Cyril Ramaphosa will stand before representatives of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces. He will smile in acknowledgement of the applause. And then his voice will be heard in many, many streets far away from the flurry of activity in Cape Town. The president’s real audience, are the millions of South Africans who will be watching him, willing him to explain the state of the nation.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in their signature red, will watch him closely too.
They have threatened to disrupt the speech. Jacob Zuma state of the nation addresses have been good practice. Indeed, in Ramaphosa’s world, it may be a New Dawn, but the EFF have to assert their relevance to the electorate.
Meanwhile, Mmusi Maimane, the Democratic Alliance leader, will also be listening. And disagreeing. He described the ANC a “broken bus” on Wednesday in his annual alternative State of the Nation address. “Broken”, is how Maimane has previously described much of the ANC, including former president Zuma.
Ramaphosa is expected to focus much of his address on jobs and investment into the economy. Any inclination he may have to talk about the commission of inquiry into state capture will be assisted by the knowledge that former President Jacob Zuma has already sent his apologies for the evening. Ramaphosa will also dole out statistics on successes in education and the work that needs to be done to improve the education system. Land may also take centre stage in his speech as expectation remains that the constitutional amendment to further the expropriation of land without compensation will be passed.
Outside on the streets, Capetonians will likely sit in the nearby bars of Long Street, where the speech will blare out above the din of post-work chatter and glasses clinking in the summer evening heat.
Car guards wearing bright yellow vests will likely lose business on the day with the annual road closures set up around Parliament.
Outside the gates of the Parliamentary precinct, homeless people who usually sit on the steps and ledges below and near the entrances will be absent. In the pomp and ceremony, they will have been told — or perhaps some of them know by now — that they have to find somewhere else to sit.
The VIPs on the day, a coterie of members of the diplomatic corps, cabinet ministers and some others, are expected to begin driving through the gates from 4pm after which their sartorial choices will be studied with great enthusiasm.
They will head inside the National Assembly and Ramaphosa will deliver his speech. Promises will be made. But this year, is a little different than last. It’s an election year. And Ramaphosa knows he’s standing there, effectively asking the nation to trust him to lead the nation again.