Bell Pottinger did a bad job, you say?

Jeremy Gordin says the unfortunate truth is we were well and truly played

On July 6 one James Henderson, the CE of the London spin-doctoring outfit known as Bell Pottinger, issued an apology for the “work” it had done on behalf of the Gupta-controlled company, Oakbay Capital, in South Africa; details offered by him were skimpy but Henderson did refer to an “inappropriate and offensive” “social media campaign” (not knowing, perhaps, that inappropriate and offensive social media posts have become de rigueur in the beloved country).  Henderson said his company was “deeply sorry”.

Whereupon a (generally) wise person of my acquaintance sent me an email: “BP has now apologized for their work for the Guptas stoking racial division, and sacked the wicked witch responsible. And our media types – having spent the last 18 months doing much the same thing – are outraged (OUTRAGED!) ...”

We’ll get to the media luvvies “in the fullness of time,” as my history teacher at Brakpan High might have put it. For the moment, however, let’s try to sort out at least two of the, er, misperceptions arising from the doing and screwings of BellPotty, as I call them, and related issues.


Why do you think the head honcho of BellPotty apologized? Because he and/or his Exco and/or fellow directors and/or chief advisers are “deeply sorry”?

I fear not. Henderson is the CE of BellPotty; he thinks Ethics is just north-west of Sussex, especially when there is (or was) an obese monthly fee involved. That’s how all capitalists work, my dears, never mind the monopoly capitalists, white monopoly capitalists, or Indian monopoly capitalists. Possibly – just possibly – Henderson’s wife or best friend or best drinking buddy or some important and influential somebody, a senior English or Seffrican business person or politician, said to him: “James, do you realize what the f%$k you’re doing or have done? What about your legacy? What are the chaps going to say at the club?”

Much more likely, however, is that our James had been thinking hard about the complaint lodged with the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) by the Democratic Alliance at the end of June or beginning of July. If you apologize and claim you knew nuffink – and, nogal, fire a few folk – well, then you can appear before the fellows and say, “Look, chaps, we’re terribly sorry, but we’ve said we’re sorry, what else can we say? Sometimes sh*t happens, you all know that.” End of story.

In short, let’s leave out schlocky sentiment and the Seffrican penchant for, and love of, apologizing at every given opportunity; and let’s not worry too much about Mr Henderson. I have no doubt he sleeps very well at night.


Even the usually wise Tony Leon is responsible for helping to continue to give life to another misperception. Today he wrote in The Times:

“Well, Bell Pottinger, far from winning any votes for its clients, is on the losing side of all the arguments. Even in the hitherto Zuma-friendly ANC policy conference, the delegates rejected the Bell Pottinger-inspired slogan of "white monopoly capital" as a handy explanation for everything that has gone pear-shaped in the beloved country.

First of all, the delegates might have “rejected” the “white monopoly capital” slogan – that’s assuming it were possible to ascertain, from the contradictory gobbledygook that spewed out of the conference, what precisely was accepted or rejected, but it wasn’t and isn’t possible to do so.

Either way, it’s quite clear that there’s going to be all kinds of rear-guard action from those in favour of the slogan to ensure it raises its ugly head again, both before and at the elective conference in December. Don’t trust me about most things, but trust me about this.

Second, what Leon is saying, and others have said, is that BellPotty did a bad job; that they messed it up. Au contraire, mon petit chouchous. As spin doctors, they did a brilliant job. First-rate; top-notch; give the chaps a cigar, or 10. If I ever have more latkes than I know what to do with, and am in need of some spin-doctoring, it’s BellPotty that I’ll phone.

Why do I say this? Well, consider the ANC’s recent policy conference. For days, we had the so-called leaders of this nation, the representatives of the oldest liberation movement on the continent, debating not how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or anything as edifying as that, but whether our present ills are due to white monopoly capital or merely monopoly capital, when we all know – even Bathabile Dlamini and Busisiwe Mkhwebane, respectively chair and vice-chair of the SA Confederacy of Dunces, even they surely know – that our endemic problems are “greed, corruption, patronage” (that’s Cyril Ramaphosa, by the way, not Karl Marx or Harry Oppenheimer), with a large dollop of incompetence chucked in for good measure.

Yet, “our” leaders, the ANC’s best and brightest, spent last week making tuchises of themselves, spouting arrant rubbish that not even Noam Chomsky, Michel Foucault, Joel Netshitenzhe, Steven Friedman, or Hayyim Yankel could make head or tail of. It’d be funny if it weren’t so tragic.

And whence came the grist for their masticating mills? Why, blow me down with the proverbial – from our good friends at BellPotty. And the farce that pertained at the conference was but a brief glimpse into what galvanizes passion and speech in the ANC. (Overall, there’s very little action – about anything, except thieving.) Courtesy of BellPotty, we have had months and months of this codswallop, being spouted at every opportunity by every so-called politician in the country, from Julius “little Julie” Malema to Jacob G Zuma.

Here’s the new finance minister, Malusi Gigaba, when he was the home affairs minister, in one of the debates on one of the many motions of no-confidence in Jacob Zuma:

“… the fact of the matter is that such patience does not exist among those eager to dispose of the ANC in order to defend racial privilege and supremacy. The truth is that there is a bitter struggle in South Africa between the former oppressors and those whom they had oppressed, for the right and power to determine the political direction of this country as well as the ownership of its economic resources. At best, this motion is merely about political point scoring, but at worst, it is characteristic of the abhorrent ploys by the global empire and their local political hoodlums under guises of good governance and defending the Constitution and the rule of law to steal political power in order to defend, protect and advance their exclusive economic interests.

Er, who has turned to a global empire for help and who comprises political hoodlums? Run that by me again, please.

Then today, the aforementioned Ramaphosa, the presidential hopeful, told the SACP conference that it's a matter of “grave concern” that Bell Pottinger was able to “sow division amongst us”. But here’s what he said in March last year: “For far too long this economy has been owned and controlled by white people. That must come to end. For far too long, this economy has been managed by white people. That must come to an end. Those who don’t like this idea – tough for you. That is how we are proceeding.”

Wonder where Ramaphosa and Gigaba got their ideas and scripts from? Ramaphosa reminds me of a Yiddish saying: “Zayn vort zol zayn a shtekn, volt men zikh nit getort onshparn”. “If his word was a stick you couldn’t lean on it.” And Ramaphosa’s one of the, er, best we have.

And people dare to suggest that BellPotty did a bad job?


Which brings us to the media luvvies. One doesn’t need to name names – with rare exceptions, all the leading radio and TV stations, and most of the newspapers and news sites, all of them jumped with gusto onto the new Seffrican bandwagon. In fairness to some of them, we don’t really know whether battering-the-whiteys (if you’ll excuse the euphemism) came first in the last few years and BellPotty saw a good issue with which to run – or whether the luvvies learned their ways at the knees of BellPotty’s “social media campaigns”. 

Which reminds me: we don’t know (and, other than for Justice Malala, who told the BellPotty surrogates to get knotted, we might never know) which media folk BellPotty “got to”. If you were the BellPotty campaign managers, aren’t there some key media folk you’d want to, er, subvert? Who precisely, we interested young consumers want to know, did BellPotty and/or their surrogates wine and dine? Perhaps they should tell us sooner rather than later.

Finally, some of our dearest friends in the media, or formerly of the media is perhaps more accurate, are feeling tremendously concerned that the BellPotty apology and its fall-out might deflect us from the vitally important national task of race-baiting. I refer to our old friend Verashni Pillay who tweeted today that “EVERYONE needs to read Steven Friedman’s column today”. Friedman wrote, as Pillay explains, that we should not give up the race debate simply because “Bell Pottinger has made it... easy to portray those who want to talk seriously about race in the economy as apologists for state capture.” Hmm.

Well, you can read his piece yourself – except, as Pillay notes, it’s “locked alas on Bdlive”. Bloody white monopoly capitalists.