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The Question South Africans Should Be Asking: What Happens Now To Bell Pottinger's Handlers?

What were they were brought in to do, why were they allowed to do it and what accountability is there now for their clients?

05/09/2017 12:37 SAST | Updated 05/09/2017 13:51 SAST

As a business, Bell Pottinger is as good as dead. For too long they have got away with being the world champions of dirty tricks in the PR industry, and they have got what they deserved. The level of scrutiny of their operations -- for the first time, as far as I am aware -- has effectively finished them off. They should shut up shop and go and play golf.

It is a good thing for people in the PR business that this has happened, because the more we can whittle out the people who run covert operations and use underhand tactics and put people's lives at risk, the better it is for all of us.

As South Africans, the key question we have to ask is: what happens now to Bell Pottinger's handlers? It takes two to commit a "crime" of this nature. Right now we know some of what Bell Pottinger did and what the consequences are for them.

But questions have to be asked about the people who brought them here -- Duduzane Zuma, the president's son; the Gupta family and Oakbay. What happens to them?

They [Bell Pottinger] did work for political organisations and undermined public order. In many places, this would be regarded as treason.

What punishment are these individuals going to face for the problems that they created, such as contributing to racial tension? What happens to the front organisations that have been named in previous reports, like Black First Land First [BLF] and the Decolonisation Foundation? What does the ANC have to say, given that the Military Veterans Association and the ANC Youth League [ANCYL] -- according to documentation in the Gupta emails -- were scripted by Bell Pottinger?

The principle to remember in all of this is that a British firm was brought into South Africa by a private company -- Oakbay and the Gupta family -- and they did work for political organisations and undermined public order. In many places, this would be regarded as treason.

Bell Pottinger has really gone to the extreme, and I don't think anybody else does PR quite like them. If one looks at the work they did in Chile with Pinochet, with Margaret Thatcher in the UK, and very recently the work they did in Iraq, where they were paid by the CIA to produce fake Al-Qaeda videos for about 250 million dollars -- I don't think anybody else does that kind of work.

The reality is that in the world we live in, money talks.

What this has done is send a signal in terms of the parameters that exist around covert operations and around fake news and alternative facts, as they are called. So it has set some parameters in place.

But the reality is that in the world we live in, money talks. And as long as there are people willing to pay for this to happen -- in our case, people like Duduzane Zuma, the Guptas and Oakbay -- there are will be some PR firms out there willing to do it.

So as long as there are people who are prepared to pay for false narratives, fake news and fake social media accounts, there will be space for other Bell Pottingers to play.