Nkosana Makate at the Constitutional Court. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Nkosana Makate at the Constitutional Court. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

Vodacom says it will not budge on a final offer it made to a former employee who came up with the idea behind the Please Call Me service, meaning the protracted dispute is likely to head to court once more.

“Vodacom was informed that Nkosana Makate plans to take our substantial offer under judicial review,” spokesperson Byron Kennedy said in a call with the media on Friday.

However, Kennedy said the company “will not pay spurious, exorbitant amounts that have no bearing on reality”.

“This would jeopardise the livelihoods and sustainability of the company.”

This comes after members of the ANC in Gauteng, including the party’s deputy in the province, Panyaza Lesufi, called on South Africans to cut ties with Vodacom and to boycott events sponsored by the mobile operator. 

They were supporting Makate, who came up with the idea nearly two decades ago, and who said in January that Vodacom had decided on a “ridiculous and insulting” sum of money to settle the dispute.

According to a Constitutional Court ruling, it was up to Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub to arrive at a “reasonable” settlement figure after earlier negotiations reached a deadlock. The court order does not require Makate’s assent to the figure, according to Vodacom.

Vodacom’s chief of legal and regulatory affairs, Nkateko Nyoka, said on Friday that Joosub’s determination was “significantly higher than R10m” — a number that had been made public during negotiations in 2018.

Nyoka said “the possibility of amending the offer doesn’t exist” as Joosub’s determination was final.

On Thursday, Chris Schoeman, one of Makate’s former litigation funders, told Radio 702 that Makate had been offered R49m. Considering that the idea was not unique, Schoeman said, this was “overly generous”.

Schoeman has noted that he has an interest in the settlement.

Some activists have called on Vodacom to pay Makate as much as R70bn, claiming that the operator had made that amount through the Please Call Me service.

Vodacom’s post-tax profits from SA for the past six financial years amounted to R70bn, said finance chief Till Streichert.

“That, I think, highlights that such a demand is very irrational.”

In the year to March 2018, the company’s revenues from SA also totaled R70bn. Streichert said Vodacom’s earlier decision to cap the number of Please Call Me messages that users could send each day signalled that the service had not been “a substantial money maker”.

On Wednesday, Lesufi, who said he was speaking in his personal capacity, said “rolling mass action” would be directed against Vodacom until the matter was resolved. This was supported by the ANC’s Liliesleaf Farm branch and an organisation that calls itself the Please Call Me Movement.

Lesufi said South Africans should boycott Vodacom-sponsored events — the company sponsors sports tournaments including Super Rugby — and cancel their contracts with the operator.

He said customers should acquire minutes and data bundles using Vodacom’s “airtime advance service” — which lets them pay the next time they recharge — though they should not settle those accounts.

The group would also lobby the government to cancel its contracts with the “bully” operator, which should consider approaching the court once more to reach a settlement.