Nkosana Makate says he has still not been compensated for his idea to create Vodacom's Please Call Me function. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Nkosana Makate says he has still not been compensated for his idea to create Vodacom's Please Call Me function. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

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 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. 

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

An initial development plan for Please Call Me in 2001 said Vodacom could make $23m a day from the service. 

Makate took the matter to the high court in 2008 after sending letters of demand to Vodacom. 

Here’s a timeline of the battle between the network giant and Makate.

The matter is heard in the South Gauteng High Court in 2013

Makate filed a civil case against Vodacom at the South Gauteng High Court to sue for compensation for the Please Call Me concept.

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 that 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. 

Case dismissed 

In July 2014, the high court dismissed Makate’s lawsuit with costs and his appeal was denied by the South Gauteng High Court in December. 

Makate vowed that this was not the end of the battle as he intended to take the case to the supreme court of appeal and the constitutional court, with his lawyers seeking R650m in damages. 

Makate heads to the constitutional court

In April 2015, Makate filed papers with the 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 rejected his leave for appeal on the grounds that he had “no reasonable prospects of success”.

Constitutional court rules in favour of Makate

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

The scramble for Please Call Me billions

In June 2016 Makate faced another battle from funders who claimed to have paid his legal fees during his case. 

Christiaan Schoeman and his company Raining Men planned to sue Makate.  In an affidavit Makate said Schoeman had only paid R2.4m of his legal fees.

Makate said he 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 heads to constitutional court again after talks deadlock 

The former employee filed an application in November 2016 to get Vodacom to compensate him after the negotiations deadlocked.

Makate said the parties disagreed on the interpretation of the order issued by the constitutional court in April.

Vodacom files affidavit 

The company 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. 

Makate files complaint for reckless management and misrepresentation of finances

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 Makate R10m in compensation.

Makate denies claims that he has reached a settlement

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

Vodacom said it was paying “reasonable compensation” to Makete and that the matter was “finally settled and closed”. 

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