White Monopoly Capital
White Monopoly Capital is a South African phrase used in contemporary political discourse. The origin of the term, the exact meaning of the term, and even the existence of what the term is thought to mean is disputed. The term is thought to mean everything from an oligopoly owned by a super wealthy white elite that dominates of large sectors of the economy consisting of colluding monopolies to business groups that are critical of corruption and alleged state capture within the administration of the South African president Jacob Zuma.
History of the phrase
Academic Christopher Malikane claims that the phrase ‘white monopoly capital’ has been used many times by South African politicians and dates back to the early 1950s during the liberation struggle. The phrase gained contemporary notoriety when it gained widespread use in 2016. Former president Jacob Zuma used the term to reject calls for him to step down as president amidst corruption allegations against him involving his relationship to the controversial Gupta family. Zuma stated that a “big business” and a “foreign chamber” were calling for his resignation.
Critics of the term have claimed that it is not known who or what the phrase actually refers to and its existence is disputed (by former South African finance minister Trevor Manual, former president Thabo Mbeki and the Gauteng branch of the ANC). Proponents of the term such as Pieter Bosch Botha, the Economic Freedom Fighters and Black First Land First argue that, despite Bell Pottinger's campaign, 'white monopoly capital' does exist in modern day South Africa. Black First Land First founder Andile Mngxitama blamed 'white monopoly capital' for a severe storm that hit Cape Town in June 2017.
On 19 March 2017, the South African Sunday Times alleged that public relations agency Bell Pottinger was behind a social media strategy, using fake bloggers, commentators and Twitter users, in an attempt to influence public opinion and sow racial division in South Africa, as well as targeting media and personalities that were opposed to the Gupta family . The term was also used in a fake news campaign by levelling accusations against government ministers regarded as hostile to Gupta interests, notably then Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, by accusing them of promoting state capture for "white monopoly capital".
Bell Pottinger campaign
The aim of the campaign was to portray the Gupta family as victims of a conspiracy involving 'white monopoly capital' to deflect accusations and evidence of their client's involvement in corruption and state capture, and to suggest that ‘white monopoly capital’ is actively blocking transformation in South Africa.
The allegations were denied by Victoria Geoghegan, a partner and director at Bell Pottinger. On 12 April 2017, it was reported that Bell Pottinger had dropped the Gupta family as a client, having previously been paid around £100,000 per month, reportedly citing "threatening" social media attacks and "insulting" allegations that it had incited racial tensions.
Pottinger's involvement with the Gupta Family was further highlighted in June 2017 when South African newspapers The Citizen and Sunday Times published several emails, allegedly between former South African President Jacob Zuma's son, Duduzane Zuma (and a close Gupta comrade) and Bell Pottinger, pointing to a ‘dirty’ public relations smear battle. They proposed that Hamza Farooqui (MD of WorldSpace in South Africa, and a partner to Gupta associate Salim Essa) would blame the former South African Deputy Finance Minister, Mr Mcebisi Jonas, of dishonesty and corruption. This alleged ‘dirty’ statement was formed by Bell Pottinger employee, Nick Lambert. The statement was earmarked for release soon after Mr Jonas said that he was offered a bribe by a Gupta family member to betray his boss, Pravin Gordhan. Mr Jonas denied this bribe and instead made a public announcement. The ‘dirty’ statement was never released after legal concerns were raised by Bell Pottinger's Victoria Geoghegan. Nick Lambert, senior advisor at Bell Pottinger, was also said to have prepared "key moments" for a speech by ANC Youth League leader Collen Maine. The speech included a quote "Those who want to disrupt the State of the Nation speech must prepare themselves for a civil war." Bell Pottinger initially denied any allegations of wrongdoing.
The consequences for Bell Pottinger
Bell Pottinger founder Lord Bell was said to have "left his own firm with key staff members, in apparent disgust over the plan"; Bell confirmed in July 2017 that the Oakbay actions had been a factor in his August 2016 departure.
In June 2017 the South Africa's Democratic Alliance criticised the country’s tourism board for working with Bell Pottinger "at the same time as the Guptas were paying them [Bell Pottinger] to sow division in South Africa" (the tourist board contract had been terminated, with the board denying this was for political reasons). The Democratic Alliance also complained about Bell Pottinger's actions to two UK PR bodies, the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. DA spokesperson Phumzile van Damme said Bell Pottinger tried to divide and conquer South Africans by abusing racial tensions in a bid to keep controversial former South African President Jacob Zuma and his party, the African National Congress (ANC), in power despite ongoing reports of "State Capture" by the Gupta family. On 4 July, the PRCA acknowledged receipt of the Democratic Alliance's complaint, and on 13 July said it had also received written observations in response from Bell Pottinger.
On 30 June 2017, Bell Pottinger announced that it was hiring Herbert Smith Freehills to review its dealing with Oakbay Investments in light of the allegations made against Bell Pottinger that it intentionally aggravated racial tensions in South Africa in an effort to deflect attention away from its client. On 6 July 2017 Bell Pottinger CEO James Henderson issued an apology and announced that it had "dismissed the lead partner involved [in the Oakbay portfolio] and suspended another partner and two employees so that [they] can determine their precise role in what took place." This came following initial findings from the Herbert Smith Freehills investigation. The dismissed lead partner was Victoria Geoghegan.
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