Bell Pottinger found in breach of code for South African campaign

Phumzile Van Damme of the Democratic Alliance National speaks outside the Bell Pottinger offices in LondonImage copyright

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Members of South Africa’s Democratic Alliance, including communications spokesperson Phumzile Van Damme, outside Bell Pottinger’s London offices this month

A UK public relations firm has been found in breach of an industry code of conduct for a controversial social media campaign, South Africa’s opposition party said.

Bell Pottinger was accused by the Democratic Alliance of inflaming racial tensions with the campaign, with the aim of boosting President Jacob Zuma.

The party said the UK Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) had upheld its complaint.

Bell Pottinger declined to comment.

The PRCA, which represents more than 20,000 members in the PR industry, can impose a range of sanctions. The most stringent is ending a firm’s membership.

The Democratic Alliance accused the PR firm of emphasising the power of white-owned businesses in the campaign, which used the #WhiteMonopolyCapital hashtag.

The party filed a complaint with the PRCA that Bell Pottinger carried out a “hateful and divisive campaign to divide South Africa along the lines of race”.

On Thursday, the Democratic Alliance said: “We have now received confirmation that our complaint stands, and Bell Pottinger will now be given five days to appeal the PRCA’s decision if it so chooses.”

In July, Bell Pottinger apologised, sacked an employee and admitted the campaign was “offensive”.

The PR firm was hired by Oakbay, a company owned by the wealthy Gupta family. The PR firm said in April that it had ended its contract with Oakbay.

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A protest outside the Gupta family compound in Johannesburg earlier this year

President Zuma has faced corruption allegations and suspicion over his ties with the Guptas. Mr Zuma and the Guptas have consistently denied all allegations.

The PRCA would not comment, but was due to publish a decision by Thursday if it had cleared the PR firm.

Bell Pottinger chief executive James Henderson also said he could not comment. He has denied reports that he has resigned.

Mr Henderson said the firm was “looking at all options for the company, including future ownership” following reports it has received takeover interest.

The PRCA is due to publish its decision on the case in early September.

Mr Henderson said in July: “We wish to issue a full, unequivocal and absolute apology to anyone impacted.”

The PR firm also said it had asked an independent law firm to review the Oakbay account and the work done on it.

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