Statement from Parliament's Presiding Officers on the February 2014 State of the Nation Address

In two days time from today, Parliament will be hosting the President of the Republic, Mr Jacob Zuma, when he will be delivering his last State of the Nation Address to a Joint Sitting of the two Houses of this Parliament. Our plans in this regard started late last year and we are at a point now where we can say, with confidence, that all is on track with regard to our preparations. We are looking forward to a memorable day for all our guests and for the multitudes of our people who will be watching on TV and listening on radio.

Allow me to make an important correction before I continue. The State of the Nation Address on Thursday, indeed like any other such Address since 1994, is not the "opening of Parliament". Parliament resumed work last month with a constituency period, followed by an intense Parliamentary committee programme.

This year's State of the Nation Address, a key event on our national calendar, will again be delivered at 19.00. Delivery of the address in the evening has enabled many more people to follow proceedings, form an opinion about government's plans and engage with these.

It is customary for Parliament to adopt a theme for each year. The themes aim to capture the essence of Parliament's focus in exercising its responsibilities. Our theme for this year - "20 years of a democratic Parliament" - reflects a milestone in our democracy. We have a separate project to mark this milestone and we will publicise the details of the commemorative programme, which we are finalising, in due course.

The Address by the President provides Parliament with the opportunity to enhance its oversight responsibility, to identify key aspects of this oversight programme for the coming year and to plan how to facilitate public involvement in this.

Parliament also provides a public forum for consideration of the President's message. This happens in debate in Parliament on the address on 18 and 19 February. On 20 February, the President will reply to the debate.

In a general election year, like this one, there are two State of the Nation Addresses - one in February and another one after the election and the establishment of a new Parliament.

Thursday's Address - the last one to this Parliament - is a bittersweet moment. While we are celebrating our 20th year of democracy, it is also the first such Address when the possibility no longer exists of former President Nelson Mandela gracing the occasion with his physical presence.

The address will again be a full ceremonial occasion, involving all branches of the state and including civilian participation. With the dawn of our democracy in 1994, Parliament's doors opened to all. The State of the Nation Address became a celebration of our nation and public participation was added to the ceremony. It was our first democratically elected President, Nelson Mandela, who introduced this civilian component into the State of the Nation Address. It is one of the many legacies he has bequeathed to us.

Once again, a praise singer will lead the President into the National Assembly Chamber.

Guests on Thursday will include civilian participants - a Junior and a Civil Guard of Honour and nine Eminent Persons, selected by Provincial Legislatures in recognition of their contribution to our democracy.

Also at Parliament will be 18 young people born in 1994 and registered as voters for our forthcoming election. Nine of them were born on 27 April 1994, the day of our first non-racial, democratic election.

Parliament will also host the winners of a national radio campaign, run to raise awareness about the State of the Nation Address. The competition was broadcast on nine radio stations in eight official languages.

Other guests will include:

  • Representatives of statutory and Constitutional institutions
  • Heads of Mission (the diplomatic corps) and their partners
  • Guests of the President
  • Representatives of the House of Traditional Leaders
  • The Mayor of Cape Town
  • Representatives from civil society organisations, religious bodies, state-owned enterprises, business and trade organisations, trade union federations, academic and research institutions
  • Members of the Judiciary
  • Directors-general of national government departments

All guests in the galleries of the National Assembly will be able to tune in to hear the Address interpreted in the official language of their choice. This is one of the aspects of the audio and information technology upgrade recently carried out in the Chamber. A similar upgrade was carried out in 2011 in the National Council of Provinces.

The State of the Nation Address will be broadcast live on radio and television and at public viewing sites in all provinces. The debate next week in Parliament on the address and the President's reply will be streamed live on Parliament's website, broadcast live on Parliament's DSTV television channel and on Parliament's YouTube channel.