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It was in the late 1980’s that apartheid negotiations reached a sensitive stage. Former President Nelson Mandela had been diagnosed with Tuberculosis and was transferred to a house at Victor Verster Prison near Paarl. Just two years later at the SONA of 1990 the then President F W de Klerk announced that he was to be freed.

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It was during the State of the Nation Address speech on 2 February 1990, that the then President F W de Klerk announced the banning of political parties – the ANC, PAC and the SACP, among other organisations, would be lifted.

He also announced that politicians, including Mandela, who were imprisoned merely because they were members of the banned political parties, would be released.

A few days later, on 11 February 1990, Mandela was a free man.

During a dialogue on the State of the Nation Address rules and procedures at the National Assembly Chamber on Tuesday, the 2 February address is one occasion that the secretary to the National Assembly, Masibulele Xaso, reflected upon when he explained the significance of the occasion.

“During this address on 2 February 1990, the SONA occasion was used [as a] platform for [the] announcement of the release of [the] founding President of the democratic South Africa, Mr Nelson Mandela, and other anti-apartheid activists, by the last apartheid President Mr F W de Klerk,” he said.

Why is the session referred to as the State of the Nation Address?

Xaso explains: “The session is referred to as the State of the Nation Address to distinguish it from the Opening Address. This usually occurs at the start of a term of Parliament. In practice, the terms SONA and Opening of Parliament are used interchangeably.”

He said in other countries, like Botswana for example, SONA is called “the President’s speech”. In India, it is called “The President’s Address” and in the US it’s called the State of the Union.