A campaign linked to the #BlackMonday group calling for the resignation of President Jacob Zuma has, over the past few days, been naming and shaming staff members of the controversial UK-based public relations company Bell Pottinger, which they accuse of intentionally sowing the seeds of racial division in order to distract from allegations of state capture by the Gupta family and Zuma.
They have published an image of Bell Pottinger executive Victoria Geoghegan, who is considered central to the alleged PR plan.
The firm describes itself as the largest UK-based public relations consultancy measured by 2010 fee income.
Beth Summers, writing on an anti-corruption Facebook page, wrote over the weekend: “Bell Pottinger, the Public Relations company employed and paid by the Guptas, has always been a ‘faceless’ company in my mind. Good to put a face to one of their agents. They are the ones who have created fake Twitter accounts and also operate as agents on FBook.
“Their job is to make sure racist issues come up …. often … so that black and white SAfricans focus on this and get to hate each other. It also takes our eyes off what Zuma and the Guptas are up to (creates smoke screens).
“While we fight each other, they get on with the business of looting our country. Bell Pottinger has pushed the whole ‘white monopoly capital’ thing and the ‘radical economic transformation’ thing.
“They influence what we think with their fake tweets and posts on FBook (they pay agents to infiltrate political Groups).
“It is their JOB to create racial division between us….that way we are weak because we are divided. Zupta cannot have ALL SAfricans standing together because then we are STRONG. Their campaign has been very successful…..”
— Trending Crimes SA (@CICArsa) March 30, 2017
According to an investigation by the Sunday Times last month, Bell Pottinger took on the Gupta family as clients in 2016 to try to improve their image, and the chosen strategy was to target white business leaders as a distraction from serious allegations of state capture.
One of the strategies was apparently to drive a predominantly social media narrative that “white monopoly capital”, the SA Communist Party and National Treasury have been standing in the way of transforming the South African economy.
The phrase “white monopoly capital” has, over past months, become a major feature of mainstream political discourse, with even President Jacob Zuma using it.
Founding member of Bell Pottinger Tim Bell, however, reportedly left his own firm with key staff members, in apparent disgust over the plan.
He alleges that arms deal facilitator Fana Hlongwane and President Zuma’s Gupta-associate son Duduzane paid the firm 100 000 British pounds to start working and several meetings were allegedly attended by both men.
The paper said it had seen evidence of the PR plan involving Andile Mngxitama and his Black First Land First Organisation, Mzwanele Manyi and his Decolonisation Foundation, and others.
The Sunday Times article also revealed allegations that Zuma also spoke to a Durban-based PR specialist, Vuyo Mkhize, about how to improve his image after the disastrous fallout following the axing of Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister in what was widely seen as a Gupta-orchestrated attempt to capture National Treasury by Zuma and the Gupta family. These allegations were investigated by the former public protector, whose recommendation that a more far-reaching investigation take place apparently continues to be ignored.
The Bell Pottinger plan reportedly involved using, among other things, Twitter bots involved in a fake news campaign to support messages critical of white monopoly capital and be defensive of the Guptas.
Last year, South African billionaire businessman Johann Rupert claimed Bell Pottinger was behind an ongoing campaign to link him to “state capture” activities.
Business Day reported that Rupert had been targeted on social media by certain fringe political commentators that had been constructing a narrative that the chairperson of R113 billion investment giant Remgro, controlled by the Rupert family, had “control” of key segments of the media.
Rupert reportedly told Remgro at an annual meeting that Richemont, the luxury brands business controlled by the Rupert family, had been on contract with Bell Pottinger to work on its financial relationships. The contract had lasted 15 to 18 years, he estimated.
“And while they were still in the employment of Richemont, they started working for the Guptas. The very same person … Their total task was to deflect attention [from state capture allegations involving the Guptas]. Guess who they took as a target? A client of theirs … me!”
The social media campaign was apparently widely believed to be an attempt to deflect attention away from state capture allegations involving the Guptas and their relationship with Zuma.
The business tycoon said Bell Pottinger’s contract with Richemont had since been terminated. He denied allegations that his family business influenced the media or was trying to capture the state.
“We have never done business with the state … ever. Firstly, I didn’t trust the previous bunch, and I don’t trust these guys. We have zero influence on the media or the [media] companies we are invested in. So it’s getting a little tedious …”
“The attacks used to come from the right, now they come from the left. It’s not fun … and it’s steered by Bell Pottinger … I’m saying this publicly now. It is well known in the press about how well this campaign is orchestrated to protect a certain family and a certain individual.”
Bell Pottinger executive Victoria Geoghegan denied the claims made by the business magnate.
Manyi also told the Sunday Times that there was “no direct link” between himself, his foundation, Bell Pottinger or the Gupta family. He said that white monopoly capital “is first and foremost a reality in South Africa”.
Although Mngxitama did not give comment to the Sunday Times, he released numerous tweets about the article, among other things alleging that the paper was a “propaganda arm” for Rupert. He said Rupert provides “dirty funds” to the paper. He called the billionaire a “spoilt bret” who was upset that the Guptas had “taken” his “spin doctors”, Bell Pottinger, from him.
The Guptas, through their company Oakbay, dismissed the paper’s allegations as “fake news”.
Manyi took to Twitter to declare that he would be suing the Sunday Times. He also repeatedly tweeted that “White monopoly capital must fall!”