Dear Victoria Geoghegan, Doyenne of Public Relations, Lion of Bell Pottinger, Doctor of Spin and Master of Mass Distraction,
On behalf of all South Africans apart from those who hate you, allow me to thank you for the sterling work you have done to drive a wedge between our people. I appreciate that it was not an easy assignment. In 1994 Nelson Mandela set about trying to bring black and white, rich and poor, closer together. Sadly, his example was followed by a few others in the years to come, ultimately making your job so much more difficult.
It was only in January last year that you met with Comrade Duduzane, the number one son of our illustrious president Jacob Zuma. You weren’t to know that the liberal snowflakes in our ridiculously free press would get wind of your noble venture and conspire to paint you as a rapacious, unprincipled carpetbagger from the north. It is these malcontents in the media who, when one of their kind drags herself from the swamp and announces that she’s taking a job in public relations, move to stand upwind and denounce her as having crossed to the dark side.
I am sure you are familiar with this term and doubt that it gives you sleepless nights. Good for you. I’m also a huge fan of the dark side. Too much light hurts my eyes and integrity gives me a headache. Let us not even speak of truth, that slippery scoundrel who delights in nothing more than playing one side off another. Loyalty, as you and I know, Victoria, comes at a price. In your case, your price was in the vicinity of R24-million.
Your invoice was mailed to someone in the vicinity of Dubai. When I say someone, I obviously mean Salim Essa, trusted lieutenant in the Gupta crime family who selflessly work day and night to economically liberate South Africa for the good of all who live in her. By all, I obviously mean all the Guptas and all the Zumas. In my book, that’s not a crime. Unlike state capture, which, as we now know thanks to you, is nothing but a cunning construct of the evil Johann Rupert and his band of billionaire brigands.
So what did you think of Duduzane? No flies on that lad. They wouldn’t dare. I like him. He has a perfect set of teeth through which he lies flawlessly. He also recently acquired a bride and fathered a child almost simultaneously. Different women, obviously. He learnt from the best.
Did you know he recently bought an R18-million apartment in Dubai? Of course you do. You’ve probably attended one of his glittering soirees. Lucky girl. Did they serve your favourite dish, red herrings?
Geoghegan. Is that Lithuanian? I don’t mean this as an insult. It’s just that there’s something very Baltic about your strategy when it comes to South Africa.
In one of your early emails to Duduzane, you correctly pointed out that a lot of criticism was being aimed at President Zuma and, by extension, the ANC itself. This was obviously an untenable situation, especially when an account potentially worth many millions was at stake.
“There is a need,” you said, “to explain in clear, unambiguous language that it is vital ‘economic emancipation’ is addressed.” Have you been to my country? I expect you have. How else would you have known that South Africans were likely to miss the point entirely unless clear and unambiguous language was used? We’re not very bright.
Your next couple of sentences were sublime. “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. In addressing this issue, the language and psychology used will be crucial.”
With that, your campaign to divide the races and distract the masses was up and running. It was you who came up with immortal phrases like ‘white monopoly capital’ and ‘radical economic transformation’. Money well spent, in my view. You were taking a bit of a chance using words of four syllables, though. As it turned out, even unreconstructed idiots like the ANC Youth League’s Collen Maine could get his swollen tongue around these awesome slogans.
You wouldn’t be where you are today, Victoria, if you weren’t a master at playing the long game. I particularly liked this bit. “For this campaign to be believed and to achieve credibility there will need to be discipline, continuity and consistency over a period, ideally running up to the 2017 elections and beyond.” Your stirring words remind me of another superhero, Buzz Lightyear, who once cried, “To infinity and beyond!” Unlike you, Buzz wasn’t solely motivated by commercial imperatives. I expect he died intestate with nobody but Sheriff Woody and Slinky Dog at his graveside. What a loser.
One of the mistakes you might have made was to think that discipline, continuity and consistency were even possible in a rogue state like South Africa. By this I mean a state full of rogues, most of whom are investigative journalists who drink too much and care little for the dark art of ‘reputation management’.
In that email to Duduzane, you said, “The key to any political messaging is repetition and we will need to use every media channel that we can, to let our message take seed and to grow.” Duduzane should have told you that with the mad emperor Hlaudi Motsoeneng out of the picture, you could rely on just one newspaper and a single TV station. And, obviously, a handful of cabinet ministers, a few hundred mid-level bureaucrats, some parliamentarians, a bunch of businessmen and, of course, a president.
It wasn’t enough, Victoria. But you know that now. We all know. Tragically, your dream of taking your campaign to the ANC elections in December and your clients to the cleaners was doomed to crash and burn. Bell Pottinger promised to “package the narrative into speeches, press releases, website content, videos/broadcast content, slogans and any other material required”, but it was all too fast and way too much. Your campaign was like an overloaded taxi guaranteed to break down on the side of the road.
You told Duduzane it was “critical that the narrative grabs the attention of the grassroots population who must identify with it, connect with it, and feel united by it”. Sounds good on paper, but did Duduzane not tell you that the best way to grab the attention of the grassroots population is to offer them a Streetwise Two and a quart of Zamalek?
So. The old bait-and-switch, hey? Smoke and mirrors. Look at my eyes, don’t watch my hands. All tried and tested by those who have lived and died in the trenches of propaganda and puffery. And why not? If it worked for Joseph Goebbels, a pioneer of the public relations industry, why wouldn’t it work for Bell Pottinger?
Apart from offering the use of a team made up of the likes of Tony Blair’s political advisor (you might want to rethink that in future), you tossed Lord Bell himself into the mix as a sweetener. He will, you promised, be available for strategic counsel as and when required. I might be wrong, but I struggle to imagine the Lord voluntarily relinquishing his gin and tonic at the East India Club to come and help you and the lads resurrect the decomposing reputations of the Guptas and the Zumas.
You even offered “other divisions should we need a wider skillset”. Good heavens. Like what? The Royal Shakespeare Company? The Light Dragoons? Skinheads from Whitechapel? It doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you had reserves. Perhaps you should have deployed them before the cat was presented with an opportunity to leave the bag.
You were so concerned about the future of South Africa and its people that you almost forgot to mention anything about payment. But then you did. “Bell Pottinger is keen to build a long-term partnership with you. Given our deeper understanding of the assets you have at your disposal, we envisage an initial five-month project at a fee of £100 000 per month, excluding costs.” Seems fair. Especially considering that the assets Duduzane has at his disposal are basically the entire contents of our treasury.
Anyway. I must go and lie down. Knysna has been gutted, Cape Town has been washed into the sea and Helen Zille has gone mad. Send my regards to your friend Max Clifford. Good man, that. Well, apart from being a paedophile. You probably won’t see Max though. I imagine you’ll be going to a different facility. New Hall women’s prison, probably. Not to worry.
Just think of all those potential new clients.