Pietersen called the decision to drop Bell, who is England’s eighth highest run-scorer of all time but has just two centuries from his last 28 Tests, “absolutely ridiculous” and “pathetic”.
Recalled duo Nick Compton and Gary Ballance are set to vie with Joe Root for Bell’s No3 spot in the batting order, while uncapped Surrey left-arm paceman Mark Footitt is also in the 16-man party.
“How can you take somebody who has played over 100 Test matches – and you’ve got the biggest Test series of the year coming up, against the No1 side in the world – and drop him?” Pietersen said.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous. I understand people who say ‘he might have not scored some runs in a while’. But you are going to play in South Africa against one of the best bowling attacks that has bowled over the last few years. You have to take him because of his experience. You just have to take him. You cannot drop him before this.”
Pietersen, whose hopes of an England rapprochement were seemingly ended for good earlier this year, also argued that Bell was being treated unfairly compared with skipper Alastair Cook.
“Cook can go two years without scoring a Test hundred but he can play every single game,” he added. “Bell struggles a little bit, but he’s not good enough to get on the South Africa tour. I think it’s pathetic and I think he’s been hard done-by.”
Bell, 33, said he felt “absolutely gutted” to be omitted for the four-Test series but vowed that this would not herald the end of his international career.
“I certainly feel I could have contributed out there and have been working tirelessly to get into the best possible condition for the tour,” the five-time Ashes winner said.
“I’m going to enjoy a winter break with my family for the first time in 11 years and come back determined to win my place back.”
Footitt and Chris Woakes – impressive during England’s one-day series against Pakistan in the Gulf, which concludes today – come in with Steven Finn and Mark Wood injured and Liam Plunkett not included.
Uncapped batsman Alex Hales and left-arm spinner Samit Patel, who were both unused squad members in the Test series defeat to Pakistan, have retained their places. The first Test starts on Boxing Day in Durban.