27th February 2024 6:58 pm
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South Africans have had enough of the Please Call Me saga

The Please Call Me court battle between Vodacom, whose stock is valued at R192 billion, and private citizen Nkosana Makate, has now entered its 24th year, and is still being waged with the South African telecom giant launching a fresh leave to appeal before the Constitutional Court of the land.

This follows the rejection of a previous appeal from Vodacom by the Supreme Court of Appeals on 6th February in the matter that sees Makate demanding several billions in compensation for what he claims is his invention, the Please Call Me feature, where one can send a message requesting to be contacted.

“The judgment of the Supreme Court dismissed Vodacom’s appeal. Vodacom is surprised and disappointed with the judgment and will bring an application for leave to appeal before the Constitutional Court of South Africa,” reads a statement issued by the telecom firm.

This latest and perhaps last-ditch attempt from Vodacom to get out of paying Makate anywhere between R10 billion to R110 billion – the company has already been ordered by the courts to pay something for not compensating Makate in the past – has roused the ire of South Africans on social media.

In the past, South Africans have hit the pavement to support Makate in his battle against Vodacom, but the company has remained steadfast even as it faced setback after setback and loss after loss at the courts over the matter. Makate has yet to see a single cent.

The backlash against Vodacom has been sustained on social media platforms such as X, the former Twitter, where South Africans are calling again for the company to compensate Makate especially after the near quarter century the saga has been ongoing.

Political pundits and even the leader of South Africa’s third largest political party Julius Malema have piled criticism against Vodacom.

Malema called for Vodacom to “take full responsibility” for the length of the court battle, describing it as a “national irritation.”

“It is important to call for mediation right now if Vodacom truly has good intentions,” the controversial politician, who enjoys stoking the fires of current events, said.

“The manner in which you are treating an African brother with arrogance is unacceptable and will not be tolerated any longer,” Malema added in a further veiled threat against the company. He also called for the removal of Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub.

His sentiment is shared by many South Africans, those who protested previously for Makate’s victory, and otherwise.

It is important to understand that Makate represents a black African man who, whether he actually was the originator of Please Call Me or not, has been ordered by the highest court in South Africa to receive compensation for his claimed technological invention – one which has made millions of lives more convenient and has raked in billions of funds for Vodacom, one of the largest corporations in the country whose origins lie in the United Kingdom.

The saga has been described as a David and Goliath story in the past by local media, with Makate representing the young shepherd facing down imposing odds. Makate has claimed that Vodacom not only broke a promise made to compensate him for the original idea, but that other people, like a former Vodacom executive, would disregard him and claim the ideas as their own.

Recent pieces like a MyBroadband opinion article which posits that if Makate is awarded anything above R10 billion it will have dire consequences for Vodacom, including having to make airtime more expensive for its customers and could even lead to layoffs in the company, have only added to resentment that some South Africans feel for the red-branded firm.

It is unlikely that Vodacom would be affected in such a way. Firstly, there is no reason why the large payout can’t be in instalments over a period of time.

Secondly, Vodacom Group is one of the largest corporations in the whole of Africa. It is readily expanding as you read this. Its Safaricom subsidiary is the only private telecommunications firm in Ethiopia, whose population of 120 million is mostly unbanked and unconnected and fallow for the company’s fintech and networking products.

It made R18 billion in total profits last year, a year marked by serious loadshedding and a weak consumer market where many other companies collapsed under the pressure. Its contract customer base is still growing, the latest figure is nearly approaching 7 million.

Losing billions to a single person in Makate will be a massive blow to the company, but mostly for its reputation. It will have to note the loss in its yearly financial statement. It will have to be remarked to stakeholders. It will be supremely embarrassing – one of the largest corporate payouts in South African history.

For Makate, who again has already won the Please Call Me court case and the ongoing battle is for how much Vodacom should pay him, it will mean the end of a lifetime’s worth of fighting. Fighting to be rightfully compensated for his work.

Luis Monzon

Luis Monzon

Journalist. Covering education, AAA gaming and consumer tech. Reach me at Luis@htxt.co.za.

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