Cape Town - The EFF failed in their bid on Thursday to push Parliament to increase the number of attendees to the State of the Nation Address (Sona) to 1 000.
The red berets made a spirited argument in the joint meeting of the programme committees of both Houses that the designated 300, inclusive of MPs and invited guests, be increased citing the lockdown regulations providing for 1 000 people in indoor venues.
EFF chief whip Floyd Shivambu said Parliament should be convened in a venue that could accommodate all MPs and debate Sona thereafter.
“If there is scope to convene the entirety of Parliament, let us do so to illustrate to society that we go to a different phase in how we manage our response to the pandemic,” he said, adding that MPs should lead from the front the front.
National Assembly Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli said a decision had already been taken on the matter.
“Unfortunately, we can’t go back,” Tsenoli said.
ANC chief whip Pemmy Majodina said the point raised by Shivambu was very critical.
“As part of the people working in the institution to ensure we have a proper Sona, we looked at that it was in our interest to call all members,” Majodina said.
However, she said the Cape Town City Hall could take up to 920 people when there was no Covid-19.
“With Covid-19, we had to work out and ensure that we meet the requirements of Covid-19, hence the number is 300. We looked at various venues and also looked at the financial implication,” she said.
“It was ideal to get all MPs, unfortunately, due to venue and capacity we are unable to get all of them,” Majodina said.
EFF MP Hlengiwe Mkhaliphi said other venues with more capacity could be looked into as alternative venues.
“I don’t think we can be married to one venue. We can explore as many as possible,” she said.
She said the venue should be changed if the City Hall could not accommodate all the MPs and Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula was empowered to designate another venue if there was no alternative in Cape Town.
Shivambu questioned why there was insistence on a hybrid sitting – where some MPs could attend physically and others virtually – whereas 1 000 could gather indoors.
But, Tsenoli would hear none of that.
“We can’t be debating venue. It is finalised. We can’t be debating numbers unless there is a compelling reason,” he said.
Tsenoli said the EFF proposal could be made for future sittings.
“The programme committee can’t be used for political debate on these issues as we do here now. I appreciate the enthusiasm to return to work,” he said.
Mapisa-Nqakula said a lot of work has gone into the Sona preparations and that parties have agreed on the Cape Town City Hall as the preferred venue.
“The most suitable facility we also thought would be cheaper is this one, the city hall,” she said.
But, Shivambu said his party has not agreed to such an arrangement.
“Don’t force us into your agreement whenever you agree to nonsensical agreements,” he said.
Earlier, National Assembly Secretary Masibulele Xaso said invited guests would include members of the judiciary, premiers and speakers of provincial legislatures, former presidents, heads of Chapter Nine institutions, and members of the diplomatic corps.
Mapisa-Nqakula put the number of the invited guests in the public gallery at 70.
In line with Covid-19 protocols, there would be use of face masks, physical distancing and sanitising of hands.
“In honour of people who may have passed on through Covid-19, there is going to be a lantern lighting ceremony at the foyer of the city hall,” Xaso said.
Xaso said the projected budget for this year’s Sona was R1.9 million.
“What we can indicate at this point in time is that the budget figure is around R1.9m at the moment. That figure is being refined and it could go down for February 10,” he said.