London-based public relations firm Bell Pottinger said on Thursday it had fired a partner in charge of a PR campaign in South Africa that the political opposition says had inflamed racial tensions.
Bell Pottinger also suspended another partner and two employees after receiving initial evidence from an investigation by an outside law firm into its work in South Africa, where it has been embroiled in a fierce race row over its work for the son of President Jacob Zuma’s son, Duduzane.
“We are deeply sorry that this happened,” Bell Pottinger chief executive James Henderson said in a statement, saying that elements of the campaign had been “inappropriate and insensitive”, especially in a country with such a troubled racial past.
“For it to be done in South Africa, a country which has become an international beacon of hope for its progress towards racial reconciliation, is a matter of profound regret,” he said.
The firm is also under investigation by Britain’s Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) after a complaint from South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA).
The DA, the political home of many white South Africans, accused Bell Pottinger of working to “divide and conquer the South African public by exploiting racial tensions in a bid to keep Jacob Zuma and the ANC in power.”
The basis of its allegations were leaked emails that suggested Bell Pottinger worked with Duduzane Zuma to create a “narrative that grabs the attention of the grassroots population”.