President Cyril Ramaphosa will deliver his State of the Nation address (Sona) on Thursday Covid-19 style — no red carpet, no 21-gun salute, no military parade and no high fashion.
This year’s Sona has also been downsized. The occasion is attended by members of all three arms of the state but has shrunk from last year’s 1 200 delegates to only 50 people this year. Everyone else will be there online.
Mava Lukani, parliament’s media officer, said in a statement: “In strict adherence to the National State of Disaster regulations, this year’s Sona will take the form of a hybrid joint sitting, with at least no more than 50 members of parliament, representatives from the judiciary and the executive in the physical chamber and the rest of this category will attend virtually.”
Even though some ceremonial components marking the event will not take place, a few traditional features “shall take place virtually in keeping with the significance and character of the address”, according to the statement.
These changes to Sona might result in the most inexpensive Sona the country has held. In 2019, the speaker of the National Assembly, Thandi Modise, said: “Parliament has been tightening Sona budgets in the past few years, which has come down from R9.2m five years ago to R2m for this  Sona ceremony.”
The Sona 2019 budget was R2.5-million, but only R1.6-million was spent.
For Sona 2021, there’s a minimum budget of R2.2-million, but given the virtual nature of the address it is likely that it will cost a lot less. The statement noted that “the event will cost the most minimum of the budget envisaged”.
The money saved will be redirected to parliament and be used to “modernise the technological capabilities of parliament to enhance its constitutional functions of public participation, oversight and law-making”, according to the statement.
This year’s Sona theme, “Following up on our commitments: making your future work better”, will carry the shadow of the effect the pandemic has on almost every sector of the economy and on people’s lives.
The debate that follows Sona will take place on 16 and 17 February and Ramaphosa will respond on 18 February.