Everything you need to know about SONA 2017

What is the SONA?

It is an annual address given by the President to a joint session of Parliament. 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.

When and what time is the 2017 State of the Nation Address?

President Zuma’s tenth State of the Nation Address will be delivered on Thursday, February 9 at 19:00. 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. As the National Assembly gallery can only accommodate 720 people, the overflow are accommodated in other parts of the parliamentary precinct.

How can I watch this year’s SONA?

All major news channels (eNCA, SABC News, ANN7, Parliament Channel) will broadcast the speech live. Other forms of streaming will be available, including by video and on the radio through SAFM. The speech will also be broadcasted on big screen televisions at various sites (shopping centres, taxi ranks etc.) across the country.

What will the President say?

A statement from the Presidency gives an indication of what he’ll talk about. The speech should be heavy on economic issues (reigniting growth) and focus on achieving radical socio-economic transformation to uplift the poor and the working class.


The speech will be delivered against the background of persistent unemployment and inequality, a weakened economy, continuing racism, a devastating drought, access to higher education challenges and problems weighing down state owned companies. The President is expected to talk to these challenges and set out his administration’s vision, priorities and programmes for the forthcoming year.

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

Parliament and the Presidency invite a wide range of people to the event. 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 South Africans from all walks of life. The President’s special guests include local and foreign people who have made a positive contribution to society and achieved extraordinary things. In the past, Chad le Clos, Sipho Hotstix Mabuse and the families of former ANC Presidents were invited as special guests.

When do political parties get to respond to the SONA?

The debate on the State of the Nation Address is scheduled for 14 and 15 February and the reply by the President is set for 18 February. Opposition parties use this opportunity to criticise the President and his administration while the President and the ruling party will defend his record. The rhetoric is often heated and memorable.

What is unique about our State of the Nation Address?

A praise singer leads the President into the National Assembly Chamber. This tradition was introduced when the late President Nelson Mandela delivered his first SONA and has become an important part of the proceedings.

Why is the red carpet so popular?

The red carpet is always a highlight as politicians let their hair down, pose in their best garb and push aside their differences for a little bit. The atmosphere on the carpet is always jovial and something of a contrast to the austere state occasion. The red carpet can also be a low light for those succumbing to fashion faux pas.

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), cultural performances along the route, a praise singer at the entrance to the National Assembly Chamber, 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. It also includes civilian participation in the form of a guard of honour along the walk by the President, accompanied by Parliament’s Presiding Officers and the Secretary to Parliament.

What happens after the speech? There is usually a lavish dinner for invited guests. However, Parliament has decided to forgo the banquet for a second year in a row due to the tough economic climate. The budget for this year's event has been trimmed to R4 million.

Local Versions

The State of the Province Address is a localised version of the State of the Nation Address where Premiers reflect on their achievements and communicate their programmes of action in respect of government’s five priority areas - education, health, the fight against crime and corruption, rural development and land reform as well as jobs for the year ahead. In past years, many provinces have held the event away from the legislature, in places such as sports grounds and university campuses. This is done to bring the legislature closer to the public and to accommodate more people at the event.

See an infographic on the SOPA schedule below:



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