#GuptaEmails: Inside the £100 000 a month media spin machine

2017-06-01 06:47


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Johannesburg - The extent of a multimillion-rand spin campaign that aimed to polarise South Africans and divert attention from scandals involving President Jacob Zuma and the Guptas is laid bare in the #GuptaEmails obtained by City Press.

This dossier of emails between the Guptas, their employees, various associates and senior government officials reveals the family's ties with President Jacob Zuma, his son Duduzane Zuma, and some Cabinet ministers.

Gupta lawyer Gert van der Merwe said he had advised his clients to lay criminal charges against the media houses and journalists for publishing "tampered" emails.

Among the bundle of documents are communications between the London-based public relations company Bell Pottinger and Gupta employees.

The emails suggest building a narrative to discredit the critics of the Guptas, and hint at how it could use the African National Congress or constituent bodies to defend the family against the media.

Well-oiled campaign

At the helm of the media spin machine was Duduzane Zuma, who met with Bell Pottinger partner Victoria Geoghegan to build a "long-term partnership" to "turn the tide of the country's trajectory".

In an email from Geoghegan to Zuma - dated January 20, 2016 - she unpacks the £100 000 a month strategy to establish a "vehicle (the entity) to be the public face of the narrative to counter the public and media criticism".

Bell Pottinger has declined to comment on the emails. The company dropped their services to the Guptas in April.

Duduzane Zuma has not responded to telephone calls or an SMS from News24 requesting comment.

In the email to Zuma, Geoghegan said the company wanted to stand "shoulder to shoulder" in communicating a vital message to SA.

Attached to the email is a company pitch on how it intended to run the well-oiled campaign that would focus on using "emotive" language and phrases such as "economic emancipation" and "economic apartheid".

"In addressing this issue, the language and psychology used will be crucial. If world markets become spooked by fears of a Mugabe-style programme of asset seizure, then it is all South Africans who will suffer," she warned.

She said the message they wanted to disseminate "is not one that can be sold overnight.

"For this campaign to be believed and to achieve credibility there will need to be discipline, continuity and consistency over a period, ideally running up to the 2017 elections and beyond. The key to any political messaging is repetition and we will need to use every media channel that we can, to let our message take seed and to grow," wrote Geoghegan.


The narrative that Bell Pottinger proposed would be packaged into speeches, press releases, website content, videos or broadcast and slogans.

This would include creating a non-party narrative around the existence of economic apartheid and using compelling research, case studies and data which illustrates that apartheid that still exists.

Zuma wrote back, saying the campaign should be visual, with T-shirts and banners.

Read here:

In April 2017, a leaked document accused Bell Pottinger of sowing the seeds of racial division to distract from the allegations of state capture.

The document claimed the company had created fake Twitter accounts and had been the force behind the creation of the "white monopoly capital" phrase.

The report released by the SACP claimed that: "Using a series of underhanded tactics, Bell Pottinger have sought to divert the public outcry over the Guptas and refocus the attention upon other examples of state interference and capture, notably by 'white capital'."

The report also contained a list of names of Twitter personalities and handles it said were used to peddle this narrative.

The PR company previously claimed that the report contained "wholly untrue" statements about the firm and its work for the Gupta owned company, Oakbay.

Handling the media

The spin machine also had to manage a barrage of questions from South African and international journalists probing the Guptas and their companies.

Suggestions to fob off the media included using comments such as: "These allegations are nothing more than political gossip and innuendo."

The official Gupta spokespeople were encouraged to use a standard response to media queries on "New questions on old allegations of political influence.

"These allegations are nothing more than political gossip and innuendo. We will not dignify them with a response. Nor will we provide a running commentary on what is a politically-motivated campaign against us," reads the email.

The team also drafted a list of master questions and answers in response to media.

Read here:

Criticism by the EFF

Their strategy to counter the Economic Freedom Fighters' repeated criticism of the family surfaced in a response to a statement by the party.

Geoghegan advised: "In response to this, are we able to get the ANC or constituent bodies to make a statement along the lines of: 'The EFF comments fly in the face of the revolution against apartheid: Threatening the safety and security of workers and committing to physically drive people out of South Africa on the basis of their race is behaviour unbecoming of our people, our democracy and our Constitution. This way of doing politics is unacceptable to all those committed to equality and the rule of law.'"

According to the emails, the company also apparently edited a press statement from the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association for February 8, 2016, to include "the EFF and other things" to disseminate to the press.

MKMVA leader Kebby Maphatsoe said no-one ever had edited or changed any of their media statements.

"After a press conference, we discuss and debate what goes into a media statement and that goes out to all the media," he said.

Read here:


In addition, they also offered to supply talking points for ANC Youth League leader Colin Maine that would include their narrative at a march in June 2016.

ANCYL spokesperson Mlondi Mkhize told News24 that the youth league had never worked with the company, nor had it ever received any advice on what to say.

However Geoghegan suggests in the email: "Thank you for this. Are we able to supply talking points for ANCYL leader? Can you find out from Mlondi which journalists they are expecting to attend/report on the march?"

Another email dated June 2016 praises Maine.

The media manager wrote back in response to receiving a YouTube clip of Maine: "Many thanks for sending the YouTube clip... some very interesting remarks by the youth leader, and some good messages for us.

"No doubt you have watched it all yourselves already, but below are some of the key moments... be they positive or neutral for us."

The "key moments" mentioned in the email included Maine's comments on:

  • White monopoly capital continuing its stranglehold on economy and it deciding what is printed in media;
  • The EFF seeking to destroy those who tell good news in the media - in particular the Gupta-owned ANN7 and New Age;
  • That those who want to disrupt the State of the Nation speech must prepare for a civil war;
  • The Ruperts and Oppenheimers;
  • And the Guptas not even being in the top 10, or even top 50 richest South Africans, so how could they be colonising South Africa?


Jessie Duarte

ANC deputy-general secretary Jessie Duarte was also praised by Bell Pottinger for her defence of the Guptas during an interview with SABC.


One of the Bell Pottinger media managers writes in the email: "Thank you. Some very positive messaging in this for us.

"Particularly like that Duarte's language exactly echoes that of Bell Pottinger's email from Sunday night. Let us deal in "cold, hard facts" not innuendo."

* Do you have information for our investigative journalists? Send us an e-mail.

Read more on:    anc  |  eff  |  ancyl  |  gupta family  |  jacob zuma  |  gupta emails  |  state capture

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