Bell Pottinger CEO jumps ship after ‘racially charged’ South Africa campaign
The chief executive of controversial PR firm Bell Pottinger has jumped ship following accusations the company engaged in a “racially charged” media campaign in South Africa.
James Henderson, who has a 40 per cent stake in the business, resigned on Monday, according to a statement.
The marketing company faces sanction by the UK Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) over a campaign the London-based firm helped to run on behalf of a wealthy family with close ties to South African President Jacob Zuma.
A final decision by the PRCA on whether to uphold a complaint by South Africa’s opposition party is expected on Tuesday.
Through its partnership with Oakbay, owned by the Gupta family, Bell Pottinger is alleged to have been involved in a media campaign which condemned opponents of the president as members of the “white monopoly capital.”
In June, law firm Herbert Smith Freehills was brought in by Henderson to carry out an independent report on the so-called economic emancipation campaign.
The investigation’s findings, seen by RT.com, conclude that certain material created by Bell Pottinger was “potentially racially divisive”.
Herbert Smith findings regarding "racially divisive" Bell Pottinger campaign in South Africa. pic.twitter.com/i2NpIuBDoH— Luke Holohan (@Lukeholohan) September 4, 2017
It added that there was evidence that steps were taken to “mislead or undermine journalists.”
“Having read these findings, I recognise the business requires a change in leadership to fix the problems of the past and to move forward,” Henderson said in a statement sent to RT.com.
“Although I neither initiated nor was involved in the Oakbay work, I accept as CEO, I have ultimate executive responsibility. I feel deeply let down by the colleagues who misled me.”
Earlier this year, South Africa’s opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, issued a complaint to the PRCA over Bell Pottinger’s conduct.
The party claimed Bell Pottinger had been used by Gupta and Jacob Zuma’s son, Duduzane, to “divide and conquer the South African public by exploiting racial tensions.”
It also highlighted that a senior Bell Pottinger staffer had identified a threatening ‘civil war’ line, delivered at a rally by ANC Youth League leader Collins Maine in 2016, as a “key moment” in the campaign.
“It is disturbing that the incitement of civil war in South Africa is identified as a “key moment” by a Bell Pottinger advisor,” the DA said at the time.
Behind-the-scenes-details of the Gupta-led media push were sent to the Sunday Times in May, with online news outlet the Daily Maverick subsequently drawing on information from a wider email leak.
Bell Pottinger ceased its partnership Oakbay in July following the scandal, with the company admitting it had been shown evidence “which has dismayed us.”
Henderson issued an “unequivocal and absolute apology” as a result.