One man’s battle against a giant

Ex-Vodacom employee has been struggling for more than 10 years to receive compensation for his Please Call Me invention

Nkosana Makate, who invented the Please Call Me system.
Nkosana Makate, who invented the Please Call Me system.
Image: Gallo Images / City Press / Leon Sadiki

Former Vodacom employee Nkosana Makate and the mobile network service have been in a court battle over the invention of the Please Call Me function for more than 10 years.

While working as a 24-year old junior accountant at the company in 2000‚ Makate approached his supervisor with the idea of creating a service that would allow users to contact people without using airtime.

Please Call Me is a tool used by most SA mobile service providers that allows consumers to send a fixed text free of charge.

Vodacom loved the idea and Makate was promised his share of the fortune when the service kicked off in 2001.

The legal battle began when Makate took the matter to the high court.

He filed a civil case against Vodacom at the South Gauteng High Court in 2013 to sue for compensation.

According to court proceedings‚ the Please Call Me idea was submitted by Makate’s then boss, Phillip Geissler‚ who told Makate in an oral agreement he would negotiate remuneration with the company.

Initially, Vodacom denied Makate’s claims that he had invented Please Call Me and that the company had promised to compensate him.

In July 2014‚ the court dismissed Makate’s lawsuit with costs and his appeal was denied in December.

In April 2015‚ Makate filed papers with the Constitutional Court in a bid to get Vodacom to pay him his share of the Please Call Me profits.

This was after the Supreme Court of Appeal had rejected his application for leave to appeal on the grounds that he had no reasonable prospects of success.

In April 2016‚ the Constitutional Court ruled that Vodacom was bound to an agreement that Makate had with Geissler.

The court ordered Vodacom to begin negotiations with Makate for a reasonable payout to compensate him.

He initially demanded 15% of the Please Call Me proceeds.

In June 2016, Makate faced another challenging battle – this time with funders who claimed to have paid his legal fees during his case against Vodacom.

Christiaan Schoeman and his company Raining Men planned to sue Makate for the money they had spent.

In an affidavit, Makate said Schoeman had paid only R2.4m of his legal fees.

He said he had cancelled his agreement with Schoeman in January 2015 and received no further funding from him.

Raining Men filed an urgent application to interdict and restrain Makate’s lawyers from representing him in the negotiations with Vodacom.

Makate filed an application with the Constitutional Court again in November 2016 to get Vodacom to compensate him after the negotiations hit a deadlock in September.

He said the parties disagreed on the interpretation of the court order issued by the Constitutional Court in April.

Vodacom filed an affidavit in January 2017‚ stating that it did not have enough records to determine how much Makate should be paid.

In February 2017, Makate’s Constitutional Court application was dismissed and Vodacom vowed to resume negotiations.

In early 2018‚ he filed complaints with the Independent Regulatory Board of Auditors and the Companies and Intellectual Properties Commission against Vodacom and its auditors‚ PwC‚ for reckless management and misrepresentation of financial statements.

This was after Vodacom offered him R10m.

On January 12‚ Makate rejected an announcement by the company that a settlement had been reached.

Makate responded that Vodacom’s claims were untrue and that he found the CEO’s offer shocking and an insult.