President Jacob Zuma, second left, talks with Mandla Mandela, left, after they and other dignitaries unveiled a bust of former president Nelson Mandela, right, at Parliament in Cape Town. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

Cape Town - Seven waist-high pillars are being put up around Madiba’s bust in the parliamentary precinct amid preparations for Tuesday’s State of the Nation address by President Jacob Zuma and plans are in place to take the red carpet ceremony indoors if it rains.

These pillars should prevent any mishap, as happened when a police car reversed into it, damaging the bust slightly days after its unveiling in April.

Just a few metres away from the bust, workers are completing a steel-framed rain shelter for the president and presiding officers. During the Cape winter, darkness falls at about 6pm and the traditional 21-gun salute will be taken outside on the stairs of the National Assembly regardless of the weather.

At a budget of R4 million, Parliament on Thursday said the costs could come in lower for this year’s second State of the Nation address as no gala dinner was planned, just a cocktail function in one of Parliament’s venues.

“It is likely we will have a saving, but I will not put a figure on this,” said deputy secretary to Parliament Baby Tyawa.

February’s State of the Nation address cost R5.7m, Parliament confirmed at the time, saying, however, that this was R2m less than the previous year.

Moving the address up by two days to Tuesday rather than the initially scheduled Thursday to accommodate the president’s participation in an AU summit, has upped the pressure but it is all systems go.

“We are quite happy we will be able to host the president,” said National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete. “He has not been very well, but we will be happy to receive him next Tuesday.”

Zuma was told at last week’s ANC national executive committee meeting to take time out to rest after a punishing elections schedule, as will other ANC officials. He spent a couple of days in hospital for regular check-ups, the Presidency confirmed, saying that since his discharge last Sunday he had been working from home.

However, Zuma missed this week’s cabinet lekgotla, which instead was chaired by his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, who also will deliver the eulogy at tomorrow’s official funeral of Epainette Mbeki, the 98-year-old struggle veteran and mother of former president Thabo Mbeki.

He will also deliver Monday’s Youth Day address in Kimberley.

Yesterday, Parliament’s presiding officers were confident that talks already under way would resolve the simmering labour dispute with the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) ahead of the address, which also signals the official opening of Parliament.

“We think that process will not lead to a disruption of the State of the Nation (address),” said National Council of Provinces chairwoman Thandi Modise.

Another meeting with Nehawu was scheduled for today to address union grievances – aired during lunch-time pickets this week. These include its call for the removal of several senior managers – particularly the human resources executive, for alleged abuse of power – and finalising conditions of employment, part of this year’s salary negotiations which in April settled on percentage increases.

Nehawu’s parliamentary branch last week threatened not to participate in the State of the National ceremonies and this still stood, said branch chairman S’thembiso Tembe.

Cape Argus