After more than three months of vehement denials of stirring racial tension in South Africa while working for the Gupta family, UK-based PR firm Bell Pottinger fired four employees who worked on the account. The firm also apologised for its conduct.
James Henderson, Bell Pottinger’s CEO, who until last week strongly denied that the firm did anything wrong, said in a media statement that its employees may have misled the management team. He added that the firm already “dismissed the lead partner involved and suspended another partner and two employees so that we can determine their precise role in what took place”.
The PR firm has already appointed an international law firm, Herbert Smith Freehills, to review the work it did for Oakbay during its one-year tenure and will publish a report once it is completed.
In the statement, Henderson states that “we have already been shown interim evidence which has dismayed us”, probably referring to the damning evidence contained in the Gupta Leaks e-mails. These e-mails, whose authenticity haven’t been questioned, offer conclusive proof that Bell Pottinger fuelled the racial agenda. The e-mails also revealed how Bell Pottinger executive Victoria Georghegan interacted with Zuma’s son, Duduzane, to formulate a campaign to manipulate the political narrative in the country.
In the statement Henderson states: “Much of what has been alleged about our work is, we believe, not true — but enough of it is to be of deep concern. There has been a social media campaign that highlights the issue of economic emancipation in a way that we, having now seen it, consider to be inappropriate and offensive.
“At various points throughout the tenure of the Oakbay account, senior management have been misled about what has been done. For it to be done in South Africa, a country which has become an international beacon of hope for its progress towards racial reconciliation, is a matter of profound regret and in no way reflects the values of Bell Pottinger.”
‘Good, decent people’
Henderson also offers an apology: “At Bell Pottinger — a proudly diverse and international team — we have good, decent people who will be as angered by what has been discovered as we are. 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.”
The statement was issued more than three months after Bell Pottinger terminated its reported £100 000/month contract with the Gupta family when the first allegations of misconduct arose.
Several other international firms such as Richemont, Pan African Resources and Tharisa also ditched the firm in reaction to the allegations. The UK operation of SA Tourism has also recently cut ties with the firm, but denied that it was due to political reasons.
The UK-based Public Relations Consultants Association also confirmed this week that it will investigate the firm’s conduct after the Democratic Alliance laid a complaint. This also follows a sustained social media campaign against the firm under the hashtag #BellPottingerMustFall.
- This article was originally published on Moneyweb and is used here with permission