Cape Town is bracing for an unprecedented level of security prior to the State of the Nation Address given by the President, Jacob Zuma. This year celebrates 20 years of democracy in South Africa, however there is a bittersweet feel to the event, as it is the first address after the passing of former President, Nelson Mandela. Also a first will be the level of security used to keep the peace in Cape Town. The government will issue parking restrictions, road closures, and security checks.
The South African Army, Navy and Air Force will take part in the procession leading up to Zuma’s State of the Nation Address. Cape Town is being cleaned up to look fresh and tidy for the television cameras that will capture this event. A red carpet will be laid out on Parliament street, the roads are being scrubbed to remove traces of horse manure and bird droppings, marquees are being created for tv personalities covering the event, the Military Police will all be wearing their best uniforms, and a 21 gun salute will ring out to precede the speech.
All of this pomp and circumstance will not come without causing huge delays and inconvenience for the local residents and those working in Cape Town. Many of the busiest roads will be closed on Thursday, prior to the speech, including Adderley, Strand and Wale streets. Additionally, a document sent to MPs states that physical searches of vehicles approaching Cape Town’s city centre would be subjected to search. Many of the main road closures will begin at 4:00 pm and remain in effect until 10:00 pm Thursday evening. Parking restrictions and lesser road closures will be in effect for nearly 24 hours. This is the first time that such security measures, such as a “search center” have been used in Cape Town.
While these precautions are being put in place to protect President Zuma, and allow the event to flow smoothly, they are running into opposition. Many people who work in Cape Town will have an extremely difficult time getting to their places of employment. In addition, political opponents have characterized the precautions as unacceptable levels of security and a waste of funds.
The government has defended its decisions to hold the speech in the evening, despite the inconvenience it will unquestionably cause. They contend that it will allow millions of citizens to watch the event on television, which they would not be able to do if the speech was held earlier in the day. Additionally, the organizers contend that the event this year will cost less than the previous year, as the venue was not as costly.
While precautions are clearly necessary to provide security for President Zuma, has Cape Town inconvenienced its residents too greatly? If New York City was shut down for an entire day, the outrage and complaining would hit monumental levels. Cape Town has made the decision that this address, the first without the unifying presence of Mandela, required ultra tight security.