Blood in the water: Have the scalps of Boughey and Moakes saved Maimane?

2019-10-18 12:07
DA leader Mmusi Maimane at the official opening of the party's new campaign headquarters in Bruma, Johannesburg. (Mahlatse Mahlase, News24)

DA leader Mmusi Maimane at the official opening of the party's new campaign headquarters in Bruma, Johannesburg. (Mahlatse Mahlase, News24)

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Shortly after 07:00 on May 6, two days before the 2019 general elections, Jonathan Moakes and Paul Boughey were sitting in the middle of the DA’s operations room at Nkululeko House, in Bruma in the east of Johannesburg, directing the last 24 hours of frantic canvassing, planning and crisis management.

The operations room was the nerve centre of the DA’s election campaign and Moakes, the campaign manager, and Boughey, the campaign chairman, were in charge of the blue machine.

Sitting in front of screens connecting the ops room to other centres across the country, Moakes and Boughey led the morning meeting, with different team leaders reporting back about media coverage, providing opposition research, detailing the day’s deployment of political principals and planning last minute surges in closely contested wards.

They were sitting at a pod in the centre of the room, with clusters of tables arranged in pods around them, different stations in charge of different operational teams. There were screens showing social media activity, latest polling numbers and Skype connections.

Boughey chaired the meeting and Moakes gave the orders, telling the logistics team leader where senior party representatives should be deployed to, how the social media team should react to attacks and querying polling numbers. Boughey made sure Moakes had access to the necessary resources. There was tension and banter.

Moakes and Boughey were part of the professionalisation of the DA which gathered pace around a decade ago. With the DA taking over the City of Cape Town in 2006 and then the Western Cape in 2009, the party’s operations grew exponentially, and a cohort of idealistic youngsters were recruited to run the party’s backroom operations.

Moakes eventually became the DA’s CEO – an unusual position for a political party – while Boughey served as chief of staff to the party leader and later worked for the provincial government, before he returned to take over from Moakes, who was regarded as a similar operator as Ryan Coetzee, the party’s original wonder kid.

Together Moakes and Boughey oversaw building on the success of the 2014 general and 2016 municipal elections, the results of which gave the party its best foundation from where to mount an electoral assault.

But sitting on their swivel chairs in the middle of the DA’s high-tech ops room, with staff scurrying about, both Moakes and Boughey were concerned about what lay ahead. They understood what was at stake and were under no illusions of the challenges internal ructions presented ahead of such a crucial poll. The Patricia de Lille spat hurt the party in the Western Cape, there was policy incoherence and serious tension among the leadership and Moakes and Boughey had to play the cards they were dealt.

The election results were a disaster for the DA. It lost hundreds of thousands of votes, was thumped in areas where it traditionally held sway and made no impression on black voters. For the first time since 1994 it lost ground.

Moakes resigned shortly after, and Boughey resigned on Thursday. They ran the election campaign with the support and under the guidance of Mmusi Maimane, the party leader, who is under the most internal pressure he has ever been.

The party’s federal council will this weekend meet to deliberate on the party review conducted by Coetzee – who masterminded the DA's growth a decade ago – and Tony Leon, who led the party from obscurity to opposition. It will also elect a new chairperson of the federal council, a position second only to the party leader.

The election of the chairperson will be a bellwether to see what Maimane’s position in the party is. The Leon-Coetzee Report apparently recommends that the party should elect a new leader and that there should be major changes in the leadership.

With both Moakes and Boughey gone, Maimane and his supporters might well argue that the architects of the party’s miserable election results are gone, and that it presents an opportunity to redesign and realign the organisation.

But sharp as they are, Moakes and Boughey were officials, party bureaucrats limited and confined by the course set by the party leader.

There is zero chance of the party acquiescing to the reported Leon-Coetzee recommendations about Maimane.

Perhaps Moakes’ and Boughey’s self-immolation was what the leadership wanted.

It remains to be seen if that is what the party needed.

Read more on:    tony leon  |  ryan coetzee  |  mmusi mai­mane  |  jonathan moakes  |  paul boughey  |  da
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