Cape Town - South Africans picketed outside Bell Pottinger’s headquarters in London on Friday to show solidarity after the public relations firm was accused of sowing racial divisions in the country.
Speaking from London, Democratic Alliance Abroad’s Will van der Merwe told Fin24 that the intention was to show Bell Pottinger that South Africans were still united despite an online campaign that punted “white monopoly capital” amid other slogans.
- Watch above video for full interview with DA Abroad’s Will van der Merwe
Van der Merwe said the picket proved South Africa was still united. “That was evidenced by the group that came together,” he told Fin24. “We are in the UK. We came together in front of Bell Pottinger’s offices.
“(It was) a mixed group of us that were standing for the new South African values (like) racial unity. That is the only way that South Africa is going to go forward and we refuse to be knocked down by this racially-divisive campaign.”
Holding placards that read, “stand with South Africa”, “No to racism”, and “Stronger than Bell Pottinger”, the protesters sang the national anthem, Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika.
“Our call to Bell Pottinger was to firstly be accountable, to come clean (and) to disclose fully all their relationships with Gupta and Gupta-linked companies,” said Van der Merwe.
“We also want reparation. We want those (funds they earned in South Africa) to be contributed back to South Africa,” he said. “We want them to be given to a developmental NGO and education. (It must be) something that will benefit South Africa so that it can go some way to counteract the harm that has been done.”
Bell Pottinger apologises
The protest follows Bell Pottinger's apology last week for the work they have done with the Gupta family and Oakbay.
“At various points throughout the tenure of the Oakbay account, senior management have been misled about what has been done. For it to be done in South Africa, a country which has become an international beacon of hope for its progress towards racial reconciliation, is a matter of profound regret and in no way reflects the values of Bell Pottinger,” the PR firm said in a statement last week.
It fired its lead manager on the account, Victoria Geoghegan, and suspended other members of the team pending an investigation into the Oakbay account.
Many South Africans refused to accept the apology, including political parties across the spectrum.
DA files official complaint
The Democratic Alliance, which lodged a complaint with the UK’s Public Relations and Communications Association for violating its code of conduct, said Bell Pottinger met its deadline to respond by the close of business on Thursday.
“The written submissions will now be referred to a committee for consideration and they will decide whether a disciplinary hearing should be held,” DA communications spokesperson Phumzile Van Damme said in a statement on Friday.
“Should the committee decide to proceed with a disciplinary hearing into the PR firm’s conduct, they have confirmed that it will likely be held on 16, 17 or 18 August in London.”
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