Punish the carpetbaggers
BELL Pottinger apologised on Thursday. In truth, the British public relations firm couldn’t have done a worse job. Acknowledged as the progenitor of the loathsome term “white monopoly capital”, which has been used to devastating effect in recent months to polarise South Africa, the hapless PR company tried to both apologise and evade direct culpability.
The apology was one leg; the dismissal of one of its senior partners and the culling of a handful of associates who worked on the account, another.
As an exercise in reputation management, it was a spectacular failure. Indeed, if anything, the apology has only spurred efforts to ensure the firm is brought to book, if not here in South Africa then in Britain, where it is based.
There are many underlying reasons for this, chief among which is the lack of action taken against those fingered in the tsunami of Guptaleak emails, abetted by the unwillingness of the nominally independent National Prosecuting Authority to formulate charges against either the Gupta family or those identified as having inappropriately or illegally benefited from their association with them. Bell Pottinger provides a fitting proxy in this miasma of impotence.
But Bell Pottinger should be made to pay for what it thought it could get away with. It callously and opportunistically played on South Africa’s inequalities and tortured history to retard, if not scupper altogether, any hope of nation-building in return for the short-term goal of distracting people from the real issues of state capture and corruption. We also need to know just what else Bell Pottinger authored, and for whom.
There is no way that Bell Pottinger can escape culpability for what its employees did in its name. At the very least – if it were truly remorseful – it should repay the fees it charged, to create a reconciliation fund.
But it should be punished – if only to discourage the next bunch of foreign carpetbaggers hellbent on exploiting our problems.