Deal? What deal? - asks 'Please Call Me' inventor

12 January 2019 - 11:34 By Graeme Hosken
Nkosana Makate, who invented the Please Call Me system, says there is no deal with Vodacom for compensation for his idea
Nkosana Makate, who invented the Please Call Me system, says there is no deal with Vodacom for compensation for his idea
Image: Gallo Images / City Press / Leon Sadiki

The inventor of "Please Call Me" has rejected with contempt the announcement by Vodacom that the cellphone giant has reached a financial settlement agreement with him.

"This is not true. The offer that they claim to be making me is ridiculous and insulting and we are not accepting it," said Nkosana Makate.

Vodacom Group Ltd announced that it was paying out "reasonable compensation" to Makate, who worked for the South African mobile network giant, for his idea to develop a popular call-back service after a former chief executive officer first took credit for the product.

The so-called settlement comes almost a decade after Makate started court proceedings against Vodacom for credit and financial compensation for the service, which allows customers with a zero balance on their mobile phones to contact someone free of charge with the SMS message "Please Call Me".

Vodacom's spokesman Byron Kennedy said: “Vodacom can confirm that the group CEO has met with the legal representatives to convey his decision and determination on reasonable compensation.

"Vodacom considers the matter as finally settled and closed."

Makate however slammed the announcement.

"I am meeting with my legal team next week. We are exploring remedies available to us. While I cannot divulge the nature of the negotiations, what I can say is that what I am asking for is what the Constitutional Court ruled be enforced, which Vodacom's CEO is now seeking to set aside.

"Vodacom to this day has not apologised for its despicable conduct, which was found by the Constitutional Court. This behaviour continues today with the CEO's announcement that he has reached a determination on the settlement."

About 140,000 customers made use of the service on its first day in operation. An initial development plan in 2001 for "Please Call Me" said Vodacom could make as much as US$23m a day from people using the service.

However, Vodacom's total revenue rose by about US$260m [R3.6bn] in the financial year.

Makate took the idea to Vodacom's product development team while he was working in the finance division in the early 2000s. Alan Knott-Craig, who was the CEO at the time, had to determine the reasonable compensation for the idea, which didn’t happen then. After lengthy court proceedings and a deadlock in negotiations in October last year, current CEO Shameel Joosub has now decided on fair compensation for the idea.

- additional reporting by Bloomberg

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