'At worst we were naive' Bell Pottinger CEO tells BBC

Protesters outside London's Bell Pottinger office. (Photo: Supplied)
Protesters outside London's Bell Pottinger office. (Photo: Supplied)

Johannesburg - "We were very naive," admits Bell Pottinger’s CEO James Henderson in the second part of a BBC Radio 4 investigative series on the work the British PR firm did for the Guptas.

In an interview, Henderson told the BBC that the company never had any intention of fueling racial tensions in South Africa or of cooperating with corruption.

He said all firm had done was to try and do a good job of defending their clients from a range of allegations, including allegations in the political arena.

He said what concerned him is that they had been called guilty without any proof or the completion of an investigation, and he was convinced that the PR firm would not be found guilty of everything it had been accused of.

Henderson said the proposals he saw looked like a responsible corporate account.

In the World at One programme, which aired on Wednesday afternoon, the BBC said that the gap between the rich and the poor is wider in South Africa than anywhere else in the world and the poor education system does not help.

Also read: Atul Gupta claims leaked emails not authentic

They went into Soweto to ask people how they felt about the state of their lives and the country.

The mother of a five-year-old, who says she wants to be a doctor, said that she has been looking for work for five years and the only way she saw a future for her child was if the president was replaced.

The journalist, Manveen Rana, remarked that despite Soweto being a hub for tourists, there was no real model for economic growth.

"We go to school but we end up in the streets. Even worse now that our people are in charge. It was better in apartheid because people got jobs," said one man.

"I find it really surprising to be standing in the area where Nelson Mandela lived and to hear that," the journalist said.

Rana said that it was these people that a campaign on economic apartheid should be aiming to help.

Instead, Bell Pottinger was accused of creating the campaign to hide a scandal around President Jacob Zuma.

'White monopoly capital'

The people she interviewed said they wanted the EFF in power.

EFF leader Julius Malema, who has been speaking about white monopoly capital for years, said the difference between what he has said and Bell Pottinger’s campaign was that Bell Pottinger did it to hide corruption.

"They vulgarised the whole point," Malema said.

"They said black corruption is not the problem, it is white monopoly capital. That is absolute nonsense."

He said the corruption of the Guptas needed to be dealt with, but this did not mean white monopoly capital did not exist.

"To speak about reality is going to help us. When you speak about issues in a genuine way, you seek to address the problem. They were using it to conceal crime and that is divisive."

Rana interviewed Nicholas Walpe, CEO of the Liliesleaf Trust who said he felt the effects of the campaign, that it created racial tension and went against everything Nelson Mandela represented.

"They took something so sensitive, political dynamite and used it for personal gain."

He called Bell Pottinger’s actions immoral and said that every ANC document says that South Africa cannot fulfil its full potential unless we create a non-racial society.

Walpe said Bell Pottinger’s apology to the country was tokenism and the company should be put out of business.

"They must take responsibility for the damage they have caused. [The] damage that undermined our democracy. If they had any respect for what Nelson Mandela stood for, they would not have done this," he said.

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