Gupta PR firm's strategy to win back support for Zuptas

Cape Town - A document circulating in government circles, and which appears to have been compiled with the assistance of former Bell Pottinger employees, alleges that the firm played a major role in portraying the Gupta family as victims of a conspiracy that involves “white monopoly capital”. 

The Sunday Times reported that new details have come to the surface, revealing how the Guptas and President Jacob Zuma called on the UK-based public relations group Bell Pottinger to win back support following the public outcry with the sacking of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene. 

Documents in possession of the Sunday Times and interviews with “key players” also allege the firm played a crucial role in a social media campaign that sought to avert attention away from the Guptas’ involvement in state capture towards state interference involving “white monopoly capital”. 

READ: Spin or not? I’d get an H for state capture, says Gupta firm boss

In the Sunday Times report it is alleged that there had been a “heavy focus upon use of social media”, including fake bloggers, commentators and Twitter users in an attempt to sway public opinion – claims Bell Pottinger categorically denies. 

READ: Spot the difference! Real vs fake tweets about finance minister Pravin Gordhan

Victoria Geoghegan, a partner and director at Bell Pottinger, told the Sunday Times that the company has nothing to do with the “so-called Twitter-bots phenomenon (automated Twitter handles that send out tweets, hashtags and links to or tweets purporting to be by organisations, and news websites) or any inappropriate personal attacks on journalists”. 

“Our role is to correct misrepresentations of Oakbay and communicate the company's belief that its competitive, disruptive, job-creating philosophy is what South Africa needs to achieve a genuine transformation,” the Sunday Times reported Geoghegan as saying. 

Rupert the "face" of "white monopoly capital 

Shortly after Bell Pottinger signed a contract – reportedly to be worth around R1.5m – there were indeed a campaign in which National Treasury and well-known business personalities, such as Richemont chairperson Johann Rupert, were targeted

The Sunday Times’ sources confirmed that Rupert cut ties with Bell Pottinger due to allegations that the company (which was one of Rupert’s long-standing clients) were behind portrayals of him as the “face of white monopoly capital).

Arms deal man’s involvement

The Sunday Times’ sources also claim that businessman Fana Hlongwane, who is closly linked with the arms deal, was a key figure in helping to establish contact between Bell Pottinger and the Guptas. 

READ: Madonsela subpoenas arms deal man over Gupta claims 

The sources say after the introduction by “a gentleman named Fana" (Hlongwane) the Guptas paid three months' fees of a £100,000 a month in advance with the instruction that the family’s image was to be improved. 

Zuma’s son, Duduzane, purportedly also attended meetings between Hlongwane and Bell Pottinger. 

Zwane and Bell Pottinger 

In July, Bell Pottinger contacted Fin24, saying it was in possession of the findings of an interministerial committee recommending a commission of inquiry into the country's banks — two months before the findings were made became public. 

The company told Fin24 that Mosebenzi Zwane, Minister of Mineral Resources, should be directly contacted. 

(Zwane led the charge against banks after they had severed business relationships with the Guptas around April last year. The Minister allegedly has close ties with the Gupta family dating back to when he was MEC in the Free State.)

This meant that Bell Pottinger had known about the recommendations for a judicial inquiry into South Africa’s banks at least seven weeks before they were controversially published by Zwane.

READ: Gupta PR firm knew about bank probe weeks before Zwane dropped bomb

Zwane was severely rebuked by the ANC and the presidency after announcing on 2 September 2016 that the inter-ministerial committee set up by Cabinet to probe why South Africa’s banks blacklisted Gupta-owned businesses recommended that a judicial inquiry be set up.

At the time the Presidency and Cabinet distanced itself from Zwane’s statement about a judicial inquiry into the banking sector.

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