DA lodges complaint against Bell Pottinger over 'racial division'

Cape Town – The Democratic Alliance (DA) intends to lodge a formal complaint against UK based public relations firm Bell Pottinger on allegations that it was promoting racial hatred in South Africa. 

“The DA has written to the UK-based Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) as well as the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) to lodge formal complaints against the company,” DA spokesperson on communications Phumzile van Damme said in a statement. 

The DA’s move comes after Bell Pottinger has reportedly hired lawyers to audit the work it conducted for the Gupta family. According to the Financial Times, an independent audit will review all aspects of Bell Pottinger’s year-long relationship with Oakbay. 

According to the Financial Times, the name of the law firm was not disclosed, out of fears that it would lead to social media attacks.

News24 earlier reported that President Jacob Zuma’s son Duduzane met with Victoria Geoghegan, Bell Pottinger’s financial and corporate partner, to strategise a campaign aimed at marketing a “narrative that grabs the attention of the grassroots population who must identify with it, connect with it and feel united by it”. 

Earlier Geoghegan wrote to Duduzane that Bell Pottinger was keen to build a long-term partnership with Zuma, saying that the company want to stand “shoulder-to-shoulder” in communicating a vital message for South Africa, as the future of the country in terms of fair economic growth, an inclusive society and political stability, “depends on it”.

READ: #GuptaLeaks: How Bell Pottinger sought to package SA economic message

Van Damme said Duduzane’s approaching Bell Pottinger seems to have been an attempt to “divide and conquer” the South African public by exploiting racial tensions in a bid to keep Jacob Zuma and the ANC in power.

“Bell Pottinger is a member of the PRCA and the CIPR. Both have a clear a code of conduct that PR firms must adhere to,” Van Damme said. 

The company is said to have used a number of tactics to move attention away from allegations of state capture by the Gupta family, including a series of fake bloggers, commentators and Twitter users in an effort to manipulate public opinion, according to a report “Bell Pottinger - PR support for the Gupta family” that was made public in April this year. 

READ: Bell Pottinger's Gupta links cast doubt on veracity of news - analysts 

Van Damme said correspondence between Bell Pottinger and Duduzane Zuma makes it seem as though Bell Pottinger was likely requested by the President’s son to undermine the ANC’s communication on policies in order to benefit the Gupta family.

“The DA has now written to these bodies to lodge formal complaints against Bell Pottinger as it has seemingly violated the codes of conduct of these regulatory bodies and behaved in an unethical manner.

“We urge the PRCA and the CIPR to fully investigate these allegations, as any attempt by a PR agency to ferment racial divisions in South Africa cannot be tolerated.”

Bell Pottinger cut ties with Oakbay in April this year, saying in a statement it was forced to step down as the company's communications adviser because it has been the subject of a smear campaign, with certain of its partners and staff coming under attack.

"It is therefore with regret that we have suggested to Oakbay, and have mutually agreed with them, that we will step down from our role as communications advisers with immediate effect," the statement read. 

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