Protesters gather during a strike at Vodacom's headquarters in Midrand, January 31 2019. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO
Protesters gather during a strike at Vodacom's headquarters in Midrand, January 31 2019. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO

Vodacom closed some stores on Thursday as protests intensify over the level of compensation the mobile-phone company is prepared to pay a former employee who suggested an idea for a popular call-back service.

While Vodacom says it accepts a 2016 court ruling that the company should pay Kenneth Makate for his  idea, the two parties are at odds over the correct amount. Vodacom  insists it complied with a Constitutional Court order and is ready to pay Makate.

While the amount offered has largely remained secret  due to a confidentiality clause, speculation in the media on Thursday put Makate’s demand at R70bn. He  has rejected Vodacom's offer, which is unknown, as “ridiculous”.

Makate’s cause has been taken up by various groups sympathetic to his battle, including black rights activists and telecommunications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.

The ANC and PleaseCallMeMovement gathered at Vodaworld in Midrand January 31, 2019. Picture: TimesLIVE
The ANC and PleaseCallMeMovement gathered at Vodaworld in Midrand January 31, 2019. Picture: TimesLIVE

ANC deputy chair in Gauteng, Panyaza Lesufi, and the ruling party’s Lilisleaf branch have also thrown their weight behind Makate. 

Makate came up with the idea for Please Call Me while working for Vodacom in the early 2000s, and the concept was adopted by the  network carrier, which is majority-owned by UK giant Vodafone Group.

The service enables customers with no credit on their phone to get a message to someone to call them back, and has proved popular with Vodacom’s millions of subscribers.

South Africans have increasingly targeted the stores of major retailers as a way of protesting against perceived injustice, particularly race-related.

Nike temporarily shuttered outlets in August after the husband of an employee was caught in a racism row, while a year ago Hennes & Mauritz AB shops were trashed in protest at a controversial advertisement showing a black child modelling a hoodie with the text “coolest monkey in the jungle”.

The PleaseCallMe movement “was born after Makate came out and spoke about the bullying tactics used by Vodacom during two years of negotiating compensation”, Nelson Tau, a representative of the campaign, said in an interview.

“We came out in support of the young black professional having to fight and endure the bullying of a big corporate.”

The movement’s Modise Setoaba said: “Vodacom is trying to deny black excellence, to deny Makate his invention while profiting from the invention.

“If it wasn’t profitable for Vodacom they wouldn’t have taken it internationally to countries like India, Columbia, Tanzania.”

Bloomberg