Ayanda Allie and the Sona tirade that gripped the nation


Ayanda Allie and the Sona tirade that gripped the nation

Cyril Ramaphosa had just finished his State of the Nation address and an eNCA reporter asked the Build One South Africa politician for her reaction. Her angry response captured the imagination of the country and went viral. ANNELIESE BURGESS speaks to her about her vision for the future.


SHE is the erudite flag bearer for a new generation of political leaders. Educated, competent, thoughtful. Focused. Informed. An activist. A thinker. The very opposite of the performative trash-talkers who have come to epitomise certain sectors of the opposition benches.

There is deep substance behind her impressive verbal IQ.

She studied journalism and worked for 702, eNCA and the SABC. She has been in government with a stint as a spokesperson for Fikile Mbalula when he was at transport. She has a master’s degree in public administration and has been involved with Bukho Bami, a youth development centre in Dobsonville, Soweto, for almost a decade. Ayanda Allie is the antithesis of an empty-vessel career politician. 

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

Was it anger that lay behind her cutting response, I ask.

She takes a moment to reflect.

“It was mainly frustration,” she says.

“I felt we were not seen, heard or respected as South Africans. I wanted my words to reflect this deep frustration that was inside my heart."

Her hands come together as if she rattling something. 

“You have lost touch with us as South Africans. Listen to us. Stop taking us for granted.

“Because the president was saying things that we all know his government is guilty of. I used this analogy in another interview: I walk into a well-lit room, switch off the lights, and then I say, ‘I’m going to give you candles, and people applaud me. And then I take it a step further and say, ‘in the next three years I will switch the light back on’, and once again people clap for me, not seeing that I am the one to blame for the darkness, because I switched off the light."

Her hands are like animated puppets, accentuating her words.

“When I make plans to switch the light on, I should not expect praise. If anything, I should be remorseful because I am to blame. But we have a head of state who acknowledges that there are ‘challenges’ and ‘much work to do’, but he is not remorseful about the fact that the fault lies on his shoulders. 

“We are here in 2024 speaking about load-shedding because no action was taken back in 2008 already when the red flags were being waved all over the place. Nothing was done. And then you hear a senior ANC official saying this week that load-shedding is not the end of the world."

Losing it

She shakes her head and pauses for a beat.

“You sit behind your high walls and say it is not the end of the world when hope and lives are being lost — people on respirators, people who are not safe because of opportunistic crimes that are taking place in the dark.”

She did, however, feel pure anger, she says, when the president said he would act against those guilty of state capture.

“That’s when I lost it. Because what does he mean? The very same people who are clapping for you are the ones who have been found to be at fault by systems that you, as the government, set up. They have not been found wanting by an international body. The ANC government put in place a commission to investigate state capture. It wasn’t civil society; it wasn’t a different political party; it was you, the ANC government, who found your own people guilty."

After a day of back and forth on WhatsApp, I chat to Allie on Zoom. She is approachable and funny. Our first attempt to chat in the morning does not happen because her boys did not tell her it was a civvies day at school, and there is a mad last-minute rush to find outfits. “Everyone is now late,” she texts me. A little while later, she lets me know she is back in rush-hour traffic because her youngest forgot a school assignment at home. “I need to clone myself,” she says with a crazy-smiley face emoji.

Our second attempt also did not go according to plan because Allie’s strategy meeting at Bukho Bami was taking longer than expected and I had a plane to catch. “Let's try late afternoon when you are home,” she says. Allie had just stepped in from a media briefing in Soweto when we finally connected. “Let me just quickly get myself a cup of coffee,” she says.

Allie grew up in Dobsonville. Her mom was a nurse and her father was a taxi owner.

“My parents gave us a good life,” she says. They could afford to send her to Model C schools. First Constantia Kloof Primary and later Allen Glen High School, both in Roodepoort. Like so many children, this “crisscross between the township and the suburbs” left an indelible mark.

Living a dichotomy

“Dobsonville was lovely and vibrant and colourful and noisy, and there was a sense of family and love, but at the same time a lot was missing. It was an under-resourced community, there was a lot of drugs, alcohol-abuse, teenage pregnancy and a lot of poverty in some areas. So you live in a dichotomy. I would take two taxis and all of a sudden I’m in the leafy suburbs. You adapt. And the experience in both those worlds becomes who you are. You become very aware of inequality and inequity and a sense of injustice. I know this might sound strange, but even the birds in the suburbs are different from the birds in the township because you don’t have broad backyards for you to have trees or big, green gardens.

“I had friends who lived in suburbia and you start to see that things are not the same as what we see in Soweto. And as a child, you don’t have the vocabulary to explain it. It stays with you. I realise now that the careers I chose were also an effort to fix what I felt was wrong. Journalism, activism, government."

As a journalist, she was always drawn to human interest stories. “I have interviewed all the big politicians — Julius, Jacob, Helen — and I was always interested in knowing the person. What they think, what their hobbies are. Because if you understand the person, you understand everything else too."

In 2015, she reached a fork in the road. “I no longer wanted only to tell stories about what was going wrong; I wanted to be part of changing what was wrong.

“So I went back to the township where I grew up and we opened an after-school care programme that we called Bukho Bami. We provide career guidance, mentorship and various psychological and other interventions that help young people in their community, and we’ve been doing that for the past nine years.”

Crossroads again

Then, she was offered the job of spokesperson at the Department of Transport.

“Up to that point, I had always been dealing with the manifestations of what is wrong in our country. Putting a plaster on a gaping wound. The government job felt like an opportunity to fix the problems at their root. I was tired of putting out the fire. Now I wanted to know more about governance. I still believed in the ANC of Oliver Tambo, I believed in the ANC of all the greats that we know and love, and I thought there must be something that we could still hold on to and work towards change. I grabbed the opportunity.

“It was interesting, to say the least,” she says with a laugh.

“We travelled to far-flung areas of South Africa and you got to see first-hand the need that was on the ground. And some of the issues that we faced, like the violence in the taxi industry, I was familiar with because of my dad. But I got so much insight into other big issues, like what was happening at Prasa [the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa], the unrest as a result of e-tolls and the need for transformation in the maritime and aviation sectors. And then the decimation of the rail infrastructure.

“The trouble started before Covid, when the security contract was found to have been flawed and the decision was taken to replace private security with police. And then there were a whole range of issues that all came together to create this massive crisis. The police were understaffed, so in the first place they could not effectively fill the vacuum, but they also now could not fulfil the security role properly. But you also now had disgruntled people in the system, the former securities, who no longer had a job. And there are interest groups in other transport sectors who also benefited from having a destroyed rail infrastructure. I mean, we had encroachment where people live in the rail reserves.

“All that was already happening pre-Covid, and then Covid came and all the state reserves were channelled towards making sure people’s lives were spared. It was a disaster cocktail. And it was heartbreaking. There was so much going wrong in the sector that I reached a point where it felt like we were pouring water into a bucket with holes.

“I had learnt much about governance and how things work, but I couldn’t find expression in the practice of activism and raising the alarm as long as I was in that job." 

Allie left her government job to do a master's in public administration. “I felt that maybe I could do more by deep-diving into the problem in the transport sector."

She did two theses, one on the state of rail infrastructure, the other on underspending at Prasa. She also doubled down on her activism. She released a single called We The People and wrote a book, How to Save a Life.

“It was an attempt for me to really say to people, ‘Guys, the country is burning, we are on fire and we need to wake up and hold hands and do something’. The songs were about Marikana, race relations, inequality and many issues the country faces.

“The book was to encourage active citizens, to say we cannot cede our responsibility to others, thinking they will fix things.”

Full circle

That is how the wheel came full circle for Allie. How she finally found “a home” for her activist-style political consciousness in Mmusi Maimane's Build One South Africa (Bosa).

“I thought, okay, I’ve done journalism, I’ve done community development, I’ve done government, I’ve done arts. Let me try politics as a vehicle to empower South Africans to make a difference.

“So here I find myself now, with a group of South Africans providing change in their sphere of influence, whether it’s academia, health and safety, law or media broadcasting. I am surrounded by people who are playing their part and it makes me feel like I’m at home, finally, because I am able to express myself, and I’m able to speak truth to power, and I’m not speaking on behalf of anybody. I’m speaking on behalf of me." 

Allie is hot political property. Her moment of speaking truth to power hit a deep chord in the public consciousness. The video clip went viral on social media, with comments such as “This is what our next president looks like".

Allie is modest.

“What I said was not new. It was not unique in any way, shape or form, but I think it was exactly what most South Africans felt. And to hear somebody affirm that publicly made people feel they were not alone. I have had black people, white people, coloured, Indian, young, old, different political parties, different sexual orientations, different religious backgrounds, you name it, saying  ‘that’s it’.  And I hope this might be a small catalyst for other voices. People who are louder than me, more eloquent than me, stronger and more assertive. 

She says she feels “a rumble, a change in the atmosphere".

You can’t block what ordinary South Africans are feeling, and I really do feel this upwelling happening at the moment. Ordinary citizens who are having this moment of realising, hang on, wait a minute, we can do something.

“I’ve got neighbours who didn’t even know I was with Bosa, saying, ‘Oh my goodness, we saw you. Neighbours from Dobsonville, neighbours from Roodepoort, people from Kenya whom I went to the Mandela Washington Fellowship with, said this video is in Kenya … and again, it’s not because it is new, it's because people said ‘that’s it’. 

Allie says she is ready to serve in whatever capacity Build One South Africa wants her to.

“There are pros and cons either way. If I go to parliament, my ambition is to get more public participation. My personal project would be things like getting guidance counsellors into township schools. Young people there are dealing with all manner of trauma in an environment that is riddled with violence and drug and alcohol abuse, and yet there are no social workers or even guidance counsellors. I have an agenda. I have things I want to deliver on and not just talk about. I really want to bring about policies that are bottom-up. 

“But maybe I can do that better in the provincial legislature because you are closer to the ground. Or maybe local government is an even better place for me. The long and the short of it is that wherever the leaders of Bosa will have me go, I will make sure that I’m the best that I can be there.”

For her and Bosa, it is all about collaboration across the political spectrum and civil society.

“The only way we are going to get rid of an ANC government is like eating an elephant, one bite at a time. We need to work together for a common goal and we need to work with those who have the same objective as us. Those who are looking to grow, those who are looking to unite the country and those who are looking to build a democracy that’s based on meritocracy where people are in positions because they’re qualified, because they’re competent, because they are fit for purpose and because they are up to the task. And as long as they are like-minded on that, Bosa will collaborate. The last thing we want to do is to go into government for the sake of going into government. That's not who we are."

Just before we say goodbye, I ask her about the South African flag and bright red waistcoat in a beautiful frame behind her in her little office at home.

“The flag comes from my time as a government spokesperson,” she says. “For me, it is a reminder that I represent South Africa and her people”

And the red waistcoat belonged to the father she adored. “He was a member of the Wesleyan Methodist Church and wore that to church. Having his waistcoat here always reminds me of who I am and where I come from. And where I want to end up."

♦ VWB ♦

BE PART OF THE CONVERSATION: Go to the bottom of this page to share your opinion. We look forward to hearing from you.

Speech Bubbles

To comment on this article, register (it's fast and free) or log in.

First read Vrye Weekblad's Comment Policy before commenting.