Bell Pot­tinger dodges protest

CityPress - - News - BIENNE HUISMAN news@city­press.co.za

Emo­tions flared as South Africans took turns be­hind a loud­speaker to voice their dis­dain for Bri­tish pub­lic re­la­tions firm Bell Pot­tinger at its cen­tral Lon­don of­fices dur­ing rush hour on Fri­day af­ter­noon in Hol­born. Pedes­tri­ans stopped to stare at the pro­test­ers with raised South African flags and vu­vuze­las on the pave­ment as metro po­lice of­fi­cers kept a close watch on the DA-led group

“Phansi Bell Pot­tinger, phansi! ... Pay back the money, Bell Pot­tinger! No to racism, Bell Pot­tinger! No to the Zup­tas, Bell Pot­tinger!” a crowd of about 50 peo­ple chanted just down the road from St Paul’s Cathe­dral.

The firm pub­licly apol­o­gised last week for the ra­cially di­vi­sive cam­paign it spear­headed for the Gupta-owned com­pany Oak­bay Cap­i­tal.

Fol­low­ing emailed cor­re­spon­dence with the DA on Fri­day morn­ing, Bell Pot­tinger de­clined to send a rep­re­sen­ta­tive to re­ceive the mem­o­ran­dum in per­son. In­stead, cur­tains at the firm’s of­fices were drawn on Fri­day and men in dark suits could be seen guard­ing the build­ing’s precinct.

Speak­ing to City Press at the protest, Gugu Khazi (42), who is orig­i­nally from Johannesburg, said rev­e­la­tions about Bell Pot­tinger’s part in the Gup­tas’ cam­paign had left her emo­tion­ally scarred. She moved to Lon­don three years ago and works in hu­man re­sources. “It’s atro­cious what Bell Pot­tinger has done to us … It’s just hideous,” she said. “We want an­swers. Next up we want an­swers from McKin­sey, too.” A rep­re­sen­ta­tive of global con­sul­tancy firm McKin­sey & Com­pany has been re­ported to have mis­rep­re­sented the firm in a deal in­volv­ing a Gupta-linked com­pany. Also at the protest was Nama Mthembu (49) who moved to Lon­don 17 years ago to work as a nurse. She has fam­ily in Dur­ban and Soweto. “Ons is gatvol met die Zup­tas!” she chanted. “I am very emo­tional; they [the Gupta fam­ily] are busy rap­ing my coun­try. And no one in the ANC is even com­ing for­ward to stop the cor­rup­tion,” she told City Press. Phumzile Nsele (62), a re­tired nurse who moved to Lon­don with Mthembu 17 years ago, said: “The ANC has dis­ap­pointed me so much. I loved them with all my heart, but I have stopped sup­port­ing them.” Tak­ing the turn be­hind the loud­speaker, Dawn In­gle (75), for­merly from Johannesburg, where she was vicechair­per­son of women’s ac­tivist group the Black Sash, said: “I protested against apartheid all my life, and I wished the ANC noth­ing but the best when they came into power in 1994. But to say they have been a dis­ap­point­ment is an un­der­state­ment. South Africa now has a thor­oughly cor­rupt gov­ern­ment.” Nicole Sochen (38) who moved from Cape Town to Lon­don six weeks ago to pur­sue a ca­reer in pub­lic re­la­tions, also de­scribed Bell Pot­tinger’s work as an atroc­ity, and added: “This is an em­bar­rass­ment to the PR in­dus­try.”

In a mem­o­ran­dum sent to Bell Pot­tinger on Fri­day, the DA de­manded that the firm pay back its Gupta prof­its and that the money be used to build schools in South Africa.

City Press is in pos­ses­sion of the mem­o­ran­dum, for­warded by DA spokesper­son Phumzile van Damme to James Hen­der­son, Bell Pot­tinger CEO, chair­per­son and man­ag­ing part­ner Mark Smith and part­ner Vic­to­ria Geoghe­gan af­ter the gath­er­ing in Lon­don.

It states that “Bell Pot­tinger spear­headed a ra­cially di­vi­sive pro­pa­ganda cam­paign in South Africa on be­half of South African Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma and his cor­rupt as­so­ciates, the Gupta fam­ily.” It also de­mands that Bell Pot­tinger make pub­lic all com­mu­ni­ca­tion re­lated to work done for the Gup­tas; de­clare all funds re­ceived for such work; that these funds be re­turned to South Africa for in­vest­ment in devel­op­ment and schools.

The DA also laid com­plaints against Bell Pot­tinger with the UK in­dus­try reg­u­la­tory bod­ies.

Bell Pot­tinger’s Twit­ter ac­count has been dor­mant since last Thurs­day when it posted an apol­ogy for its work for Oak­bay Cap­i­tal over the course of a year. Bell Pot­tinger ceased busi­ness with Oak­bay Cap­i­tal three months ago.

“We wish to is­sue a full, un­equiv­o­cal and ab­so­lute apol­ogy to any­one im­pacted. These ac­tiv­i­ties should never have been un­der­taken. We are deeply sorry that this hap­pened,” said Hen­der­son in the state­ment.

He did not re­ply to an emailed in­vi­ta­tion from City Press to com­ment.

GATVOL A crowd of about 50 peo­ple chanted out­side Bri­tish pub­lic re­la­tions firm Bell Pot­tinger’s cen­tral Lon­don of­fice at rush hour on Fri­day af­ter­noon

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