Opinionista Phumzile Van Damme 25 August 2017

Bell Pottinger should be a cautionary tale to other private corporations

Thursday's confirmation from the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) that the Democratic Alliance's complaint against Bell Pottinger has been upheld, is a very welcome signal to other companies who improperly interfere and try to sow divisions in South Africa. And rightfully so.

The PR firm, like many other international private companies, has done far worse in much more fragmented societies than South Africa and their time to account has finally come.

Of all the Gupta co-conspirators, Bell Pottinger is one of the rare few that has been pursued without fear or favour.

While the ANC-captured South African authorities frustrate local efforts to probe those who colluded with the Guptas and the Zumas, the DA took the Bell Pottinger fight to their own backyard.

When Bell Pottinger’s propaganda campaign first came to light it became immediately apparent that this was a blatant attempt by the Guptas and Zumas to exploit the already fragmented race relations in our country. This campaign sought to consolidate the President’s power, feed into his undefined “Radical Economic Transformation” narrative and focus attention away from his corruption.

Our President was essentially willing to destroy the already fragile reconciliation project South Africa has been working on over the past 23 years, to appease his corrupt buddies. Bell Pottinger, on the other hand, stooped to even lower levels of low, in order to make a profit.

South Africans launched their own social media campaign, #BellPottingerMustFall, which shook the PR firm to a point where they issued an apology, “closed their Gupta accounts”, made their Twitter account private and alienated their counterparts in the PR industry.

The lucrative Gupta money suddenly became a major PR nightmare for the spin masters.

The DA launched an official complaint against Bell Pottinger based on our submission that the PR firm violated various clauses of the PRCA’s codes of ethical conduct, particularly Clause 4 of the Professional Charter which states that:

“ [A] member is required to take all reasonable care that professional duties are conducted without causing offence on the grounds of gender, race, religion, disability or any other form of discrimination or unacceptable reference”.

On Thursday, the PRCA confirmed that the DA’s claim against Bell Pottinger would be upheld. What this means is that the PRCA agreed that the PR firm breached its industry’s codes of ethical conduct.

We trust that the PRCA’s sanction against Bell Pottinger, whatever that may be, will send a strong message that South Africans and the DA will not stand idly by those colluding against the people of this country, you will get caught and you will be taken to task.

Just last month the DA Leader, Mmusi Maimane, wrote to a number of companies that bankroll the Guptas’ favourite PR firm, urging them to end their relationships with Bell Pottinger.

Bell Pottinger is not the only private company that has been complicit and benefitted in the capture of our state resources.

If this entire Bell Pottinger saga taught us one thing, it is how far the corrupt and captured in our society are willing to go to feed their greed.

What Bell Pottinger did not expect, and what other private corporations should always keep in mind the next time they plan anything dubious in South Africa, was the backlash that came after these revelations were brought to light.

This should be a cautionary tale to all private corporations.

The South African people have shown great tenacity against this powerful opponent. And they will continue to do so against any private family and corporation that seeks to exploit our painful past to gain a quick buck. It seems as though the South African public has taken matters into their own hands, as the authorities within our very borders fail to pursue any of the perpetrators involved in State Capture.

Bell Pottinger aided and abetted the Guptas and Zumas, and other private companies who are doing the same, be warned. DM

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