Why Vodacom South Africa’s “Please call me” case may suck in Safaricom

The ongoing case between Vodacom South Africa and its former staff Nkosana Makate involving use and compensation for the “Please call me” service could suck in all Vodafone affiliates which utilise the short code service in their operations.
Among Vodafone affiliates using the “Please call me” service is Kenya’s Safaricom which launched the flash back service in 2005.

According to an article in mybroadband, Nkosana Makate now plans to go through the records of Vodacom and its parent, Vodafone, to work out what they owe him for the idea.

Nkosana Makate
Nkosana Makate

The article, published on May 1, states that the recent Constitutional Court ruling which ordered Vodacom to negotiate a compensation package with Makate “paved the way for him to ask for the records of all Vodafone operations where Please Call Me is used.”

“He said that they are “reassessing” their team of negotiators and are strengthening it with actuaries, auditors, and accountants. They are looking at big firms with an “appetite” to help them, said Makate…Makate said that the service “is everywhere where Vodafone operates, so it’s not only confined to South Africa,” states the mybroadband, adding that “once they have all the records — including where and to whom Vodacom licensed the product — they will be able to quantify the 15%.”

Sections of South Africa’s media, like the Sunday Times, as early as 2013 speculated that that the amount (compensation) could be as high as R6.75-billion rand while City Press recently reported that Makate’s team estimated that by now, that amount has climbed to R10.5 billion.

In its ruling, the Constitutional Court further ordered that “In the event of the parties failing to agree on the reasonable compensation, the matter must be submitted to Vodacom’s Chief Executive Officer for determination of the amount within a reasonable time.”

According to Wikipedia, Makate invented the “Please Call Me” concept, shared the concept with his then employers (Vodacom) who used it without paying him. This led Makate to lay a charge against Vodacom which he won after an 8 years battle.

The “Please call me” idea came out of a communication need between Makate and his girlfriend (now wife) who was then a university student and had no money for airtime. Because they were in a long distance relationship, the lack of airtime and several communication hurdles sparked the idea for “Please Call Me,” a free service which enables a user without airtime to send a text to be called back. Makate, a Vodacom trainee accountant at the time, consulted his superior and mentor Lazarus Muchenje about “Please Call Me,” who then advised him to speak to board member and director of product development and management Philip Geissler. Makate’s discussion with Geissler led to the idea being captured in a proposal and concept document. Negotiations then followed between Makate and Geissler that Vodacom would use the “Please Call Me” and put the idea on trial for commercial viability. In an oral agreement, Geissler agreed to pay Makate a 15% share of the revenues Vodacom would generate from the innovation if it was technically and financially viable. In 2001, Vodacom went to market with “Please Call Me,” a game changer in South Africa’s telecoms industry.


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