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R20 billion pay-up: Please Call Me inventor scores big in Vodacom case

A staggering, well-deserved R20 billion in compensation awaits Vodacom’s Please Call Me inventor as the court rules he be awarded a handsome percentage of the total voice revenue generated by Africa's largest digital and financial services company covering a period of 18 years.

The ‘Please Call Me’ inventor Nkosona Makate stands to pocket a massive, well-deserved R20 billion in compensation after the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) dismissed an appeal by Vodacom and ruled in his favour.

Handing down judgment in the long-standing case between Makate and Vodacom, the SCA has instructed Vodacom to:

  • Pay Mr Makate 5% – 7.5% of the total voice revenue of the Please Call Me product from March 2001 to date of judgment (6 Feb 2024), along with interests.

The protracted battle between Makate and Vodacom dates back to 2007 when the then 27 year-old Vodacom employee (finance manager) filed legal papers against the mobile operator, claiming he was promised compensation as the inventor of ‘Please Call’ by his boss, Philip Geissler, the then Vodacom director in charge of Product Development and Management.

At the time, Makate pitched the idea that would allow prepaid users to send a free text message to other mobile users requesting that they call back. The idea was ultimately developed into ‘Please Call Me’, which rolled out on the Vodacom network in 2001.

However, the mobile operator backtracked on its promise when the service became a success. Makate then launched court legal action in 2008.

The case was ultimately heard – first in 2015 – by the Constitutional Court, and it 2016 it ordered Vodacom and Makate’s teams to negotiate reasonable compensation in good faith.

Makate v Vodacom: Compensation determination and ruling

Vodacom used several models to determine its initial offer of R47 million, which Makate duly rejected and challenged in the High Court in 2019.

It was after the High Court ruled in favour of Makate that Vodacom decided to appeal the matter with the Supreme Court.

Handing down the ruling on Tuesday, the Supreme Court ordered that Vodacom use the models Makate’s team submitted to calculate the monies owed over 20 years.

Makate’s legal team then concluded that a 5% share of an estimated R205 billion in revenue over 18 years (from its March 2001 launch to when Vodacom first made his R47-million offer in January 2019) equates to R20 billion in compensation.

“This Court found that the aforementioned must be considered in the context of the duration of the agreement between Makate and the applicant,” the SCA said.

In a nutshell, the SCA found that the “eighteen years proposed by Makate is reasonable, probable”; and that Vodacom CEO should “apply the eighteen-year period.”

in response to the ruling, the mobile operator had this to say: “Vodacom notes the judgment of the supreme court of appeal of South Africa in the case of Vodacom (Pty) Ltd v Makate, which was handed down on 6 February 2024.

“Vodacom is surprised and disappointed with the judgment and will bring an application for leave to appeal before the Constitutional Court of South Africa.”

Editor's Desk
Editor's Desk
Curated by editor-in-chief, Tankiso Komane, this special collection of articles from the Editor's Desk unpacks topics of the day, including commentary, in-depth analysis and partner content.
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