Former presidents Thabo Mbeki and FW de Klerk are among eminent persons invited to attend this year's state of the nation address (Sona), Parliament's presiding officers said on Tuesday.
Addressing journalists at Parliament, National Assembly Speaker Max Sisulu and National Council of Provinces chairman Mninwa Mahlangu said President Jacob Zuma's speech, at 7pm on Thursday, would be preceded by a ceremony involving the three arms of state and members of the public.
"The ceremony is again a full ceremonial one involving a mounted police escort and a military ceremonial motor escort, the lining of the president's route by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), a national salute by the ceremonial guard of the SANDF and a military band, a salute flight by the SA Air Force, and a 21-gun salute," said Mahlangu.
Mahlangu and Sisulu would accompany Zuma as he entered Parliament from the old Slave Lodge and walked up to the dais on the steps of the National Assembly.
"Members of the public take part in the ceremony through a junior guard of honour (comprising high school pupils), a civil guard of honour (comprising representatives of civil society organisations), and eminent persons (nominated by provincial speakers from the nine provinces)."
Zuma would be welcomed into the Assembly chamber by a praise singer from the Free State, April Moloi, before starting his speech.
"The state of the nation address is an opportunity for the president to assess our country's domestic and foreign situation, and to set out the direction that we should take to improve efforts to achieve a better life for all," Mahlangu said.
Invited guests include Mbeki and his wife Zanele, but only if his programme in the Sudan allows him to return home by Thursday.
De Klerk and his wife Elita are also on the guest list, along with former deputy presidents Baleka Mbete and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
Former chief justice Pius Langa and former speaker Frene Ginwala will also be sitting in the gallery.
Zuma's speech will be televised live. Large screen televisions will be erected in various areas to allow members of the public to enjoy the spectacle.