The National Assembly hosting a joint sitting. Siyasanga Mbambani/DoC.

#SONA2016 | Johannesburg - As President Jacob Zuma gears up for what many are saying will be his toughest ever State of the Nation Address this evening, social media is already abuzz with anticipation.

Among the challenges Zuma is expected to address are SA’s lacklustre economic growth, now expected to come in at under a percent this year by the World Bank, a challenge from the Economic Freedom Front leader Julius Malema as to the exact reason why he axed finance minister Nhlanhla Nene suddenly in December, as well as issues such as funding for higher education on the back of the #FeesMustFall protest last year and early this year.

South Africans are also awaiting policy changes that can put the country on the right foot and further information on just how much money Zuma will pay back towards the cost of building Nkandla.

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His speech, which traditionally marks the opening of Parliament, comes two days after his lawyers confirmed to the Constitutional Court that we concurred with Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s findings that he was liable for some of the R215.9 million spent on his home; reversing a position he had held steadfastly for two years.

Amid the court case and policy concerns, there has also been a growing call for him to step down, and the #ZumaMustFall campaign is gaining steam.

The interest shown in this year’s speech is reflected on social media, with youKnow Digital reporting that volumes are up on Twitter, with education being the most popular topic of conversation.

MD Kelvin Jonck notes, every year, social media eagerly anticipates the annual SONA. 2015 saw the largest online SONA conversation so far and 2016’s pre-SONA data is projecting at least a 24 percent growth in volume of conversation year-on-year.

“At the forefront of the 2016 pre-SONA social media speculation (of the top 9 topics that came up in 2015), 67 percent of the conversation is around the President's comments on education, 11 percent on safety and 9 percent on the economy.”

Jonck notes, outside of formal expectations, the social media community is most interested in Zuma’s response to the question of why Minister Nene was fired. A question being raised by both the DA and the EFF, which is reflected by the social media community.

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While overall sentiment going into SONA2016 is much the same as pre-SONA2015 (varying by a few percentage points) there are a number of peripheral conversations (such as #FeesMustFall, #ZumaMustFall) which, while not directly linked, are likely to significantly impact the SONA conversation on the day, Jonck notes.

Jonck adds the past year has seen a surge in people making their will known through increased activity on social media - particularly on political issues. “2015 saw many such issues coming forward - not always very politely. At a broader level this is excellent news. This feedback, public participation, if you will, provides critical insight into the needs and wants of South Africans - in real-time.”