Bell Pottinger dodges protest
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