President Cyril Ramaphosa is seen outside Parliament before delivering his State of the Nation Address in June 2019. File picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency (ANA)
President Cyril Ramaphosa is seen outside Parliament before delivering his State of the Nation Address in June 2019. File picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency (ANA)

The imbongi and the aides-de-camp: A comprehensive guide to SONA 2020

By Staff Reporter Time of article published Feb 13, 2020

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Cape Town - President Cyril Ramaphosa is set to deliver his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) in Parliament on Thursday evening. 

Ramaphosa will reflect on a wide range of political, economic and social matters, with corruption and unemployment being on the top of his agenda. 

The event will be presided over by Speaker Thandi Modise and/or the Chairperson of the Council.

Here is a guide to the ceremonies which are part and parcel of the event.

Ceremonial processions 

The official programme usually begins with three processions: the procession of provincial Speakers, provincial Premiers and the judiciary proceeding to the Assembly Chamber through the main entrance of the National Assembly building. 

When the President arrives, he is welcomed by the Presiding Officers and their deputies and proceeds to the National Assembly Chamber.

Junior Guards of Honour, who are comprised of learners from schools across the country, form a guard of honour from the gates of Parliament, where the President disembarks. The Civil Guard of Honour then continues where the Junior Guard of Honour end. 


As the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, aides-de-camp are attached to the President at all ceremonies of the state. Their role in the country is limited to ceremonial duties an during the SONA, they travel with the President from his place of residence to Parliament. 

21-gun salute 

The 21-gun salute is fired in honour of the President. The first shot of the salute is synchronised to coincide with the playing of the national anthem. The salute takes approximately one minute and 40 seconds. 

In the Chamber 

Members of both Houses must be seated inside the Chamber before the procession enters. Each of the nine provinces is represented by its full quota of six permanent and four rotating members. A delegation of 10 South African Local Government Association members also occupies seats in the cross-benches. 

The Presiding Officers and the President enter the Chamber in procession. They are preceded by the Serjeant-at-Arms and the Usher of the Black Rod and followed by the Secretary to Parliament. 


Although our Parliament is based on the Westminster traditions, the Imbongi (praise singer) gives SONA  a touch of African pride as the Imbongi narrates the President’s personal history, clan and family lineage in song and dance. Imbongi starts this narration as the presidential procession enters the Chamber. 

Serjeant-at-Arms and Usher of the Black Rod 

The Serjeant-at-Arms and the Usher of the Black Rod are responsible for compliance with security policy in and around the Chamber. They lead the President and the Presiding Officers to their seats and proceed to place the Mace and the Black Rod in place before the Speaker and the Chairperson of the NCOP respectively. 

Mace and Black Rod 

The Mace is a symbol of authority of the Speaker of the National Assembly. When the Serjeant-at-Arms carries the Mace into the Chamber and places it before the Speaker of the National Assembly, it signifies that the National Assembly is formally in session and that its proceedings are official. 

The Black Rod is the symbol of the authority of the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP). The Black Rod reflects the vital role of the provinces in the functioning of the NCOP. When the Usher of the Black Rod carries the Black Rod into the Chamber, it means that the NCOP is formally in session. 

Start of Proceedings 

While standing, the Presiding Officers bows to the left and then to the right in greeting and then requests a moment of silence for prayer or meditation. Once everyone is seated, the Presiding Officer reads out the notice calling the joint sitting and calls on the President to deliver his Address to the joint sitting. 

When the President completes his speech, the Presiding Officer adjourns the sitting. Members are required to wait while the procession leaves the Chamber.

During the week after the SONA, a debate of approximately two days is held over what was discussed in the address. The President is then given an opportunity to reply to the debate on the third day and to close the debate.  


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