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EXCLUSIVE: South Africa needs full disclosure on 'Gupta syndicate' - Pravin Gordhan fires salvo at PR firm

13 July 2017 - 10:55 By Sabelo Skiti
Pravin Gordhan. File photo.
Pravin Gordhan. File photo.
Image: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Former finance minister Pravin Gordhan has rejected the recent apology by London-based PR firm Bell Pottinger‚ which had worked for the controversial Gupta family‚ labelling it a "pathetic cover-up" and an "insult" to South Africans.

Gordhan‚ one of several targets of the company's much-criticised campaign for the Gupta family‚ has called on the company to make a full disclosure‚ which would include details of what its clients‚ "the Gupta syndicate"‚ briefed it on.

He also wants the firm to reveal what its dismissed partner‚ Victoria Geoghegan‚ had done that caused concern‚ and for South Africans to start focusing on their countrymen who were part of the campaign.

The Sunday Times reported that Bell Pottinger prepared media releases and provided briefing notes for the presidents of the uMkhonto weSizwe military veterans and the African National Congress Youth League. It was also aligned‚ by a former Bell Pottinger employee‚ to individuals such as former government communications boss and labour director-general Mzwanele Manyi‚ as well as civic organisations such as the Black First Land First grouping led by Andile Mngxotama.

Since Bell Pottinger's work for the controversial family‚ the firm has been hit with a barrage of complaints from political organisations‚ civic society‚ professional bodies and ordinary South Africans through its social media pages and by complaints to PR regulators in the United Kingdom.

"It [the campaign] uses 'white monopoly capital' as a narrative to cover a vast array of nefarious activities at the behest of‚ and in collaboration with‚ the 'Gupta syndicate' ... The minor admissions made vindicate what we've been saying for almost two years – that the attacks on institutions such as the national Treasury‚ and on individuals and their families, were designed to malign them and create a distraction from the activities of the 'syndicate'‚" Gordhan told the Sunday Times.

Gordhan added that Bell Pottinger stood accused of collaborating in a systematic plan to capture the South African state, as shown in studies by academics and stated in a report by the South African Council of Churches.

"They went beyond image management or whatever they thought they were doing. You don't just cook up things or help to create fake Twitter accounts and start labelling people. If you are just a PR agency‚ you don't get involved in that‚" he said.

"They were attempting to legitimise and provide a rationale for the looting of state resources and divide our nation along racial lines and driving us [back] to our divided past. They were collaborating in undermining the good governance and constitutional structure and processes in South Africa‚ including in relation to Cabinet appointments‚" he said.

Gordhan and his national Treasury deputy Mcebisi Jonas; Absa CEO Maria Ramos and her husband Trevor Manuel‚ a former finance minister; businessman Johann Rupert; and several other companies and banks were all targeted by the campaign‚ which often took a personal turn.

The damage, though‚ Gordhan said‚ was not limited to the aggrieved and their families.

"Even if you take them at their word in terms of white monopoly capital being a terrible thing‚ that is interfering in a historic and national project that we were involved in as South Africans to bring our different communities together and build a nation as envisioned by the Mandelas of the world. And they were undermining and sabotaging that work."

Gordhan said South Africans should take comfort not in the current apology but in the fact that professional bodies in South Africa and the UK stood up "for what is right" by "insisting that their members operate in terms of the right values".

"The credit does not go to Bell Pottinger at all. It goes to others who are about to investigate them."

- Sunday Times