06/06/2017 06:22 SAST | Updated 06/06/2017 07:07 SAST

Gupta Leaks: How Bell Pottinger Manipulated SA Narrative

New details have emerged about Bell Pottinger and Duduzane Zuma's plans to rewrite the South African story.

Muntu Vilakazi / City Press / Gallo Images via Getty Images
Ajay and Atul Gupta and Duduzane Zuma speak to the City Press in Midrand, South Africa on March 4 2011.

New details have emerged about how Bell Pottinger, the PR firm hired by the Guptas, sought to influence the messaging about South Africa's economic situation. According to investigative journalism units amaBhungane and Scorpio, information from the Gupta emails shows how the firm worked with President Jacob Zuma's son, Duduzane, to manipulate the messaging.

In a report published by Daily Maverick, amaBhungane and Scorpio reported that Duduzane Zuma met with Victoria Geoghegan of Bell Pottinger and that she later involved a Dubai-based company owned by Gupta associate Salim Essa for a fee of £100 000, or about R2.3 million.

The meeting was reportedly to discuss a five-month campaign, described by Duduzane as "not primarily one to affect the outcome of the elections [2017] but to turn the tide of our country's trajectory in the long term".

In correspondence to Duduzane, Geoghegan says, "With unemployment levels in excess of 20%, with the ANC approaching the 2017 elections following unbroken rule since 1994, with the political opposition (DA & EFF) upbeat, there is a feeling that the next big key issue facing South Africa is that of delivering genuine economic empowerment. This feeling is widespread and has been expressed to us in emotive language using phrases such as 'economic apartheid' and 'economic emancipation'.

"Furthermore, given that a lot of current criticism (for almost all of South Africa's ills) is directed at President Zuma, and indirectly at the ANC, there is a need to explain in clear, unambiguous language that it is vital 'economic emancipation' is addressed. The people of South Africa need to be told that their dissatisfaction is being heard and that concrete actions are being or will be taken to address them."

Geoghegan says the "language and psychology" used in the campaign will be essential, as South Africans will suffer if the markets become "spooked" by fears of Zimbabwe-style asset seizures.

She also recommends that while the narrative is not intended to be linked to any one political party, "it will create opportunities for political commentary and participation".

Bell Pottinger laid out a lengthy plan, describing how the message would be distributed and packaged.

"It is critical that the narrative grabs the attention of the grassroots population who must identify with it, connect with it and feel united by it. In order to reach this audience, the Bell Pottinger and South African teams will need to strategise the appropriate engagement tactics, be this radio, social media and/or slogans e.g. #endeconomicapartheid #growthforall," Geoghegan wrote.

Bell Pottinger said that the fee for running the campaign would be £100 000 a month over the five months from January to June 2016.