What is the State of the Nation Address? The State of the Nation Address, at the annual opening of Parliament, is an address to the nation by the President of the Republic of South Africa. The address is delivered at a Joint Sitting of the National Assembly (NA) and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) of Parliament. It focuses on the current political and socio-economic state of the nation. The sitting is called by the President and is hosted by the Speaker of the NA and the Chairperson of the NCOP. It is one of the rare occasions where the three arms of state namely the Executive, represented by the President, Deputy President and Ministers; the Judiciary, represented by the country’s Chief Justice and the Judge Presidents; and the Legislature, represented by the Members of Parliament (MPs) come together in one place. Members of the public are also represented at the State of the Nation Address to participate in the occasion that plays an important part in the shaping of our nation.
Why is the State of The Nation Address important? In the address, the President highlights the achievements and challenges experienced over the past year and maps the year ahead. The address covers political, economic and social matters and considers the general state of South Africa. It deliberates on South Africa’s domestic affairs as well as its relations in Africa and abroad. The State of the Nation Address is an important means of accounting to Parliament and the South African public for what has happened over the past year and to involve the public in the political agenda of the coming year. The State of the Nation Address is also about a celebration of our nation and nation-building.
When does it take place? The State of the Nation Address usually takes place in February. However, when there are general elections two addresses take place, one to mark the final session of the outgoing Parliament and the other after the elections, when the new President and Parliament are acknowledged. In a break from tradition in February 2010, the State of the Nation Address was presented in the evening for the first time, to give more South Africans the opportunity to witness the proceedings and to listen to the President’s address. As a result of this change, television viewership shot up from about two million viewers to just short of four million viewers.
Public participation in the State of the Nation Address Public participation is an integral part of the ceremony. Members of the public are invited to participate in the ceremony as invited guests of Parliament. South African citizens from across South Africa and from each province form part of the Junior and Civil Guards of Honour. The Civil Guard of Honour, who welcomes the President to Parliament, comprises ordinary South Africans. The Junior Guard of Honour is drawn from schools around the country and represents the youth, to whom South Africa entrusts the country’s future.
Eminent South Africans are usually invited to be part of the activities. They are drawn from the provinces and are individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the country.
The State of the Nation Address and the oversight function of Parliament The State of the Nation Address forms an integral part of oversight and accountability. A true test of democracy is the extent to which Parliament can ensure that government remains answerable to the people. Oversight is a function granted by the Constitution to Parliament to monitor and oversee the actions of government. Parliament is mandated to oversee all organs of State including those at provincial and local level in order to:
•Make government accountable for taxpayers’ money
•Make government operations more transparent and
•Increase public trust in government.
•When performing oversight Parliament focuses on:
•How laws are implemented
•How budgets have been applied and
•Whether government departments are being effectively managed.
The oversight function entails the effective management of government departments in order to improve service delivery and to achieve a better quality of life for all citizens.
In the State of the Nation Address, the President takes the pulse of the nation and sets out policy objectives and deliverables for the year ahead. It is against these objectives and planned deliverables that the Minister of Finance introduces the Budget for the coming year, usually towards the end of February. The policy objectives and key deliverables form the basis of what government will have to do in the coming year. It is the benchmark by which Parliament holds government accountable to the people, for what it delivers on, and for how money allocated is spent.
What happens after the State of The Nation Address? After the State of the Nation Address is delivered, it is debated by the two Houses of Parliament. Political parties have an opportunity to give their opinions and raise questions on matters addressed in the speech. Issues of concern are raised and areas of critical importance to the nation are highlighted. The public is invited to attend and observe this debate as is the case with all sessions of Parliament. In turn, the President responds to the points raised and questions arising from the debate.
How can the public participate in Parliament? Involvement in the ceremonial proceedings of the State of the Nation Address is one way in which the public can become involved in their Parliament. There are other ways of participating in Parliament and these include voting in elections, joining a political party, lobbying and joining a voluntary or non-governmental organisation, contacting MPs, making submissions or representations and sending petitions to Parliament.
Parliament is committed to making itself accessible to the South African public by creating opportunities for the meaningful involvement and participation of all: men and women, literate or not, working or unemployed, able-bodied or people with disabilities, the poor (especially the rural poor), and other target groups: to gather and express themselves on matters relating to their basic needs. Specific programmes such as the People’s Assembly, Taking Parliament to the People, Women’s Parliament and the Youth Parliament are all platforms aimed at engaging with the public to hear their views on what matters most to them. Parliament wants to broaden public involvement and participation in keeping with this year’s theme “Celebrating the legacy of freedom through strengthening the link between Parliament and the People”.
– By Source; SA government information website