Please Call Me negotiations anything but fair, says Makate

Samuel Mungadze
By Samuel Mungadze, Africa editor
Johannesburg, 19 Aug 2019
Protestors picketing at Vodacom’s head office in February.
Protestors picketing at Vodacom’s head office in February.

The inventor of Please Call Me, Nkosana Makate, who is heading back to the courts as he seeks R10 billion in compensation for his invention, wants a review of some parts of the Constitution, saying his basic human rights were infringed.

Makate tells ITWeb his negotiations with Vodacom “have been anything but fair”. The parties were ordered by the Constitutional Court in 2016 to enter into good faith negotiations to determine reasonable compensation.

“Section 34 and 39(2) of the Constitution states that such tribunals must be subject to review because they should be in line with the Bill of Rights. It means that decisions coming from forums like mine before the CEO should be guided by Common Law.

“There are certain things that were not done. We want them to produce all the details regarding revenue generated by the Please Call Me invention.”

Makate says he is confident the court will agree with him.

“We are pretty confident that the courts will find in our favour; we have facts and we will let them speak.”

In court papers lodged at the High Court in Pretoria two weeks ago, Makate, who has been fighting the mobile operator for the past decade, said Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub offered him a settlement of R47 million during a 9 January meeting, and described the offer as “inherently unfair”.

In his application, Makate wants to review and set aside Joosub’s settlement offer and force Vodacom to disclose the revenue the company has generated from Please Call Me since it was launched in March 2001.

Makate’s invention enables a user without airtime to send a text to be called back by another subscriber.

He is also seeking the court’s confirmation that he is entitled to be paid 5% of total revenue that Please Call Me has generated from March 2001, plus accrued interest.

According to Makate, Vodacom owes him a settlement of R10.2 billion, which excludes accrued interest and all the legal fees incurred since the Constitutional Court judgement. He wants Vodacom to pay him a settlement that takes into account his legal fees.

In the court papers, Makate said his legal team has calculated that Please Call Me has earned Vodacom R205 billion in call revenue from 2001 to 2020 (a forecast), which excludes, among other things, advertising revenue linked to the innovation.

Protracted dispute

Makate has been fighting Vodacom for more than 10 years.

The matter has even sucked in politicians, with some accusing the mobile operator of racism in the manner it has handled the matter.

In February, after Vodacom saw picketing at its head office in Midrand, Byron Kennedy, Vodacom spokesperson, in a conference call with the media, dismissed allegations of racism surrounding the impasse.

At the time, said Kennedy, Makate proposed an idea or concept to allow people without airtime to send a message requiring a call back.

"A protracted legal dispute developed; the matter went to the Johannesburg High Court, which found there was no legally-binding contract between Mr Makate and Vodacom.

"Mr Makate's application was dismissed by both the High Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal. The Constitutional Court, on appeal, subsequently found there was an agreement between Vodacom and Mr Makate, but noted that an outstanding contractual term, the price that we paid for Mr Makate's idea, still had to be negotiated.”

He added that the Constitutional Court instructed Vodacom and Makate to enter into negotiations to agree a reasonable payment to Makate.

It also directed that in the event of a negotiation deadlock, Joosub will be called on to break such a deadlock, Kennedy explained, adding that Joosub was excused from any discussion on the Makate matter at the exco and board level.

Explaining the latest proposed R47 million settlement that Vodacom offered, Makate said it “sounds like a significant sum of money”. However, “it is in fact merely 0.023%” of the R205 billion call revenue Vodacom allegedly generated from 2001.

“There is no sense in which an amount of 0.023% can be said to be a reasonable share of the revenue concerned, which can be up to 85% as in other instances.”