Man who came up with “Please Call Me” idea seeking $500m from Vodacom, the courts agree but Vodacom fighting

Leonard Sengere Avatar

We take it for granted that if ever you run out of airtime and do not have the funds or means to purchase more, you can send a “Please Call Me Back” text to a friend. It’s a neat little feature which has no doubt saved some people’s literal lives.

It’s *555# on Econet, *140# on Telecel and *141# on NetOne.

I feel like we don’t use these Call Me Backs as much because of services like WhatsApp that make texting affordable.

Anyway, there is a battle that’s been raged over “Please Call Me.” The person that came up with the idea has not been compensated to his satisfaction and he has been in and out of court with Vodacom to hash out the issue.

Please Call Me

A fellow by the name Nkosana Makate, a tech entrepreneur from South Africa is credited as the man who came up with the idea.

Vodacom jumped on it and made its millions, nay, billions from the idea. As the model corporation they are, they offered Makate US$2.5 million as compensation for his brilliant idea.

Makate felt it was a spit in his face and countered with $542 million. Yhoo, that’s quite the difference. Vodacom offers to pay $2.5m and my guy says $542m would be fair, still below what he should get, but fair.

The matter has been to:

  • the High Court (which ruled that Vodacom had not adequately compensated Makate),
  • the Constitutional Court (which ordered them to negotiate in good faith) and
  • the Supreme Court of Appeal (which ruled that Makate is entitled to receive between 5% to 7.5% of the total money generated from the idea, plus interest)

The Supreme Court of Appeal made it’s ruling yesterday, the 6th of February 2024. Vodacom is not having it and are already preparing to appeal before the Constitutional Court of South Africa.

Why are they not happy with paying 5 to 7.5%? For the calculation of 5 to 7%, the period considered is from 2001 to 2019. That’s a long period of time and a lot of money.

Makate’s lawyers calculate that Vodacom made US$10.2 billion from the idea from 2001 to 2020. Hence the $542m compensation they seek.

Delays

The Constitutional Court first ordered these guys to negotiate in good faith back in 2016. Eight years later they are still taking each other to court. Now Vodacom will appeal to the Constitutional Court, adding some more months or years to the process.

Large corporations will drag it out in the courts, all to frustrate their opponents. It’s been over 8 years since negotiations began and there could be some time still. How is Makate even funding this court case?

It’s crazy but if I too were looking at a half billion dollar payout, I would fight it the way Vodacom is.

We’ve seen this in Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe we have had a lot of people claim their ideas were stolen. Quite a number have claimed Econet stole from them over the years.

What’s different with these cases is that it is not agreed upon that Econet used anyone’s ideas. Vodacom acknowledges that it was Makate’s ideas. Econet has not agreed to using anyone’s ideas.

To be fair, some of the people who claim Econet stole from them are just dreaming. For some, you’re like, “I don’t know what’s what here” but nothing has come of it. Here are two that come to mind.

  • Artwell Makumbe claimed Sasai was stolen from him and threatened to sue. That was over 5 years ago and we await the lawsuit
  • Ignatius Munengwa claimed his panic button idea was stolen by Econet and sued for US$870 375. That was in 2017 and since then, Munengwa withdrew the case from the High Court after his lawyers missed deadlines, and reported Potraz to the Ministry of ICT in 2022 after it handled the complaint unsatisfactorily.

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4 comments

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  1. Idea Factory

    Good luck to him. It’s also a good opportunity for African innovators to refresh their knowledge of local and global patent and intellectual property law. Yes, it is abused to no end (how the heck can a rando patent hyperlinks when they had nothing to do with them?), but in cases like this, it turns your pitch of an idea into a sales pitch for property you own

  2. Always Off Topic

    The saisai thing. Can anyone really claim the concept of it, seeing that it is kind of a WeChat clone, well it tries to be at the very least.
    Does anyone go out of their way to use Saisai?

    As for this fellow. Of that 500 million , how much will the lawyers get? And how much are they costing him now? It could be that the lawyers arranged to take on his case on the condition they get a slice of the payout. At this point it may no longer be about the idea itself, but also some greedy lawyer’s fee.

  3. Prince

    I find it unbelievable that Vodacom generated am average of $500 million dollars each year since 2001, just from please call me’

    1. sadney

      I think it is referring to the calls made in response to the call me back that would have been send, and not the actual call me back text

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