Bell Pottinger, a Public Relation firm that handled the failed 2015 re-election campaign of immediate past president, Goodluck Jonathan, has been blacklisted by the Public Relations and Communications Association, PRCA, of South Africa.
During the 2015 presidential election campaign, a poll by Bell Pottinger, which put then opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari in the lead, was cited as a reason the election was postponed from February 14 to March 15 so as to allegedly allow more time for Mr. Jonathan to rescue his sinking campaign.
Officially, however, the election was postponed for security reasons.
South African Sunday Times newspaper reports that the PRCA imposed its most serious sanction on the British firm for exploiting the country’s racial divisions on behalf of one of its clients, the Gupta family.
The Gupta family is a wealthy Indian-born South African family with investments in the media, mining and computer equipment. The family which has strong links with controversial president of the country, Jacob Zuma is believed to wield undue influence in the country.
Notable members of the family are brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh (also known as Tony) Gupta.
The PR firm reportedly helped hatched a multinational fake news scheme to hide the family’s wealth at the expense of South African taxpayers.
In a leaked Gupta email, Nick Lambert, a Senior Advisor at Bell Pottinger, identifies “key moments” in a speech which was delivered by ANC Youth League Leader, Collins Maine. These key moments include the following quote: “those who want to disrupt the State of the Nation speech must prepare themselves for a civil war”.
The reference to civil war in the statement was seen as inciting.
In another email, Bell Pottinger’s Financial and Corporate Partner, Victoria Geoghegan, met with Duduzane Zuma, the son of South African President, Jacob Zuma, to forge a campaign at spreading a “narrative that grabs the attention of the grassroots population who must identify with it, connect with it and feel united by it”.
From this correspondence, it seemed Bell Pottinger was likely requested by Mr. Zuma, to undermine the ANC’s communication on policies in order to benefit the Gupta family.
The membership of the firm was terminated immediately following a petition by South African opposition party, the Democratic Alliance.
Francis Ingham, Director General of PRCA‚ said: “Bell Pottinger has brought the PR and communications industry into disrepute with its actions‚ and it has received the harshest possible sanctions. The PRCA has never before passed down such a damning indictment of an agency’s behaviour.
“This outcome reflects the huge importance that the PRCA places on the protection of ethical standards in the business of PR and communications.”
The PR firm may not reapply for membership of the PRCA for another five years, the sanction stipulates.
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