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February 14, 2014

Why the State of the Nation Address Hits a Flat Chord

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Ever since I've been working in the news industry, the State of the Nation Address has always struck a flat chord with me. Especially over the last three years as our economic affairs become more dire, politicians more corrupt, and the poor poorer.

I understand that the Sona is all about tradition; however, for me the problem is that all the pomp surrounding it has turned into somewhat of a celebrity showing.

First off, there is the live broadcast. Certainly, it is an important event and I'm sure that many people are interested in how our nation is faring. It's also a positive thing that it is broadcast on the national public broadcaster, so more people will be able to see it. However, there is a negative in this: Television has been used, almost since its invention, as a propaganda tool. I am concerned that what President Jacob Zuma says in the address is taken as law, makes all the negative aspects of our country disappear. And he certainly pulled all the stops in his speech last night - will it sate the rowdy public before this year's general elections? Possibly.

Secondly, there is that infernal red carpet and all the fashion obsession that surrounds it. The Ministers of Parliament and their honoured guests traipse along the red carpet in high fashion for which they possibly paid thousands to have tailored for them - for you can be certain no one would be wearing a plain old Truworths gown. The crowds cheer and clap, certainly not hailing them for their amazing achievements - as even Mandla Mandela was there in traditional regalia - but for the simple fact that they know their names. They are asked about their clothing as though it overthrows everything about them - their political dispensation thrown aside by them and the viewers as everyone becomes an honourary member of the fashion world.

Thirdly, there is the deployment of hundreds of policemen, SANDF members, marchers, musicians, security guards, limos, convoys of luxury BMWs (because no car is an equal status symbol), and strangely imperialist displays. All of which comes at a pretty penny. The budgeted cost for the entire address this year was expected to be R5.7 million. Seriously?! Could MPs not have thought, "Hmm, this year, since there's been so much wasted expenditure, and we owe so much to foreign companies for services, perhaps we should keep the Sona simple this year, and limit it to only a speech in Parliament, or a recording like we did when Nelson Mandela died." But no, the expenditure is 'necessary'.

Speaking of pretty pennies... finally, it is the blatant celebratory banquet after the Sona that really irks me, which will take up most of the nearly R6m budget for the event. What are MPs rewarding themselves for? Doing their jobs (or not, as the case may be)? And their honoured guests? Who are they? Certainly some people deserved to come along, like the top matriculants in the country, but who else was there? I shudder to think how many tender deals were made on the R100,000-cap alcohol bill while the people in question were tipsy.

Oh, I forgot! The Sona is costing R2 million less this year. Because they decided not to hold the banquet in a tent like they did last year. Well, good on you politicians of the country! Sad that you were catered to at the Cape Town International Convention Centre instead. (Although this saving is beyond the point, because a second Address will be taking place after the general elections, and I assume it will be the same type of celebration, especially if the ANC continues with a two-thirds majority.)

In my opinion, people technically responsible for the livelihood of the country - which is crying for their help, a la protests in Ekangala, Bronkhorstspruit, and many more - shouldn't be wasting money on pricey banquets and shows of authority when there are still so many people living in poverty and remaining unemployed.

{Image credit: Twitter\ParliamentofRSA}

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