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SA's Vodacom vows to fight 'Please Call Me' court ruling

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Pan-African operator Vodacom has vowed that it will appeal a South African Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) judgment pertaining to the now infamous "Please Call Me" (PCM) case.

South African-headquartered Vodacom suffered another loss in a long legal battle, with the SCA ruling against it on Tuesday but said it would appeal the case before the Constitutional Court of South Africa (ConCourt).

Vodacom's loss stems from an appeal it brought against an earlier high court judgment that found it had not offered PCM inventor Nkosana Makate enough by way of compensation for the service.

Makate is credited with coming up with the PCM idea back in 2000, which allows mobile users without any airtime to send a free text message requesting that someone call them.

The SCA ruled that Makate is entitled to receive between 5% to 7.5% of the total money generated from the idea, including interest - revenue generated over 18 years, from 2001 to 2019.

The SCA ordered Vodacom to determine a new compensation for Makate within 30 days of the judgment.

The SCA ordered Vodacom to determine a new compensation for Makate within 30 days of the latest judgment.   (Source: Paula Gilbert)
The SCA ordered Vodacom to determine a new compensation for Makate within 30 days of the latest judgment.
(Source: Paula Gilbert)

"Vodacom notes the judgment of the supreme court of appeal of South Africa in the case of Vodacom (Pty) Ltd v Makate, which was handed down on February 6, 2024," the telco said in a statement via the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE).

"Vodacom is surprised and disappointed with the judgment and will bring an application for leave to appeal before the ConCourt within the prescribed period," the statement continued.

'Please Call Me' saga

Makate began his legal battle in 2008 after subsequently leaving Vodacom and receiving no compensation for the idea. The case has been in and out of various SA courts many times since then.

In 2022, the Pretoria High Court, told Vodacom it needed to pay Makate more than the R47 million (US$3.1 million at the time) it offered for his idea.

In April 2016 the Constitutional Court ordered Vodacom to "negotiate in good faith" and provide "reasonable compensation" to Makate for his PCM idea.

Negotiations ensued between Vodacom and Makate but no agreement was reached and the Constitutional Court ordered Vodacom's current CEO, Shameel Joosub, to determine a reasonable amount of compensation to be paid to Makate.

In January 2019, Joosub offered R47 million (US$3.1 million at the time).

That offer was way below what Makate thought he deserved. He had originally asked Vodacom for 15% of all PCM revenue should the product be successful. In 2016, his legal counsel argued that would amount to around R10.5 billion ($693.6 million at the time).

After two decades and numerous setbacks, one thing that has never changed is Makate's determination not to back down until he is paid what he believes he is owed for his invention.

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*Top image is of Vodacom Group CEO Shameel Joosub (Source: Vodacom Group)

Matshepo Sehloho, Associate Editor, Connecting Africa

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