by Herman Manson (@marklives) Ogilvy & Mather South Africa, as the ANC’s ad agency of record, has been dragged into a scandal surrounding an alleged “black ops” election campaign set in motion by the ruling party in the runup to the 2016 municipal elections.

“The ANC planned to spend R50 million on a covert campaign targeting opposition parties in the 2016 local government elections.” This is according to investigative journalism site, amaBhungane (read the full amaBhungane expose here). “A covert team, initially known as the War Room, intended to ‘disempower DA and EFF campaigns’ and set a pro-ANC agenda using a range of media, without revealing the ANC’s hand.”


The campaign allegedly included printing fake opposition party campaign posters, the launch of a fake news website and an underhanded social media campaign to spread fake news.

amaBhungane reports that the campaign — which was supposed to have no direct links to Luthuli house — held its inception meeting at the Bryanston campus of Ogilvy & Mather but adds that “Ogilvy appears not to have participated in the team’s subsequent activities.” The investigative journalist site, however, goes on to quote from an email sent by a former Ogilvy group business director that reads:

“There is acknowledgement that team ANC needs to set the narrative and limit the knee-jerk reactions to media and opposition activity. We are required to subdue the renegades.

“The movement does not want to be the primary contact for intelligence collection. This must be managed by the Ogilvy team.

“The ANC to confirm which ANC members will be seconded to the war room.”

Official response

In its official response, OM& SA comments as follows: “Ogilvy & Mather has been an agency of record for the ANC in various elections since 1999, including the 2016 Local Government elections. O&M were contracted to run the traditional communication for this campaign including above the line, digital and PR work, and the work produced was absolutely within the parameters of ethical and professional communication.” It also told amaBhungane that, while it participated in discussions around the electoral “war room”, its involvement didn’t extend beyond the original discussions [which seems bad enough reputationally — ed].

Social media reaction

A sample of social media reaction to Ogilvy’s and the ANC’s electoral ‘war room’

Further reading

  • TimesLive: How the ANC’s R50m ‘war room’ flopped
    The war room was focused on enhancing the ANC’s presence on social media and disempowering its political rivals, the DA and EFF, by printing fake election posters, producing articles for a website called The New South African, and producing material for a television show.
  • Daily Maverick: Op-Ed: Black Ops, paid Twitter, fake news – a real threat to SA’s democracy
    Even with the alleged R50-million the ANC was prepared to pump into an “off the books” campaign aimed at rustling up support for the beleaguered ruling party, coupled with the creation of crude propaganda seeking to discredit opposition parties, the ANC still lost three key metros in last year’s local government election. That’s the problem with political patronage. Paying people to do your dirty work usually attracts incompetents. It is also illegal and criminal.


Herman MansonHerman Manson (@marklives) is the founder and editor of

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