Vodacom: Our final Please Call Me product was different to Makate’s idea

JOHANNESBURG – Vodacom says the final version of its Please Call Me service was “different” to the idea that was presented to it by former employee Nkosana Makate.

The telecommunications company was responding to the PleaseCallMe saga that has dominated headlines in recent weeks in a full-page advertisement in the Mail & Guardian on Friday.

In the advertisement, the company’s Chief Officer: Corporate Affairs for Vodacom Group, Takalani Netshitenzhe gave its version of the lengthy saga.

While it has been ongoing for almost 20 years, the company came under fire in recent weeks after it said that the matter had been settled and it considered it closed.

Makate then took to social media saying, “I would like to make it very clear that I have not agreed anything with Vodacom. The amount that the CEO has determined is shocking and an insult.” He said at the time he was consulting his legal team about remedies available to him.

During a conference call about the matter on Friday, Vodacom spokesperson Byron Kennedy confirmed that Makate would be applying for a judicial review of the offer that Vodacom has made.

But Vodacom is yet to receive his application, Nkateko Nyoka, chief officer for legal and regulatory said. “We are awaiting his application. Once we receive the application, we will typically understand his grounds for review.”

Based on Vodacom’s understanding, the Constitutional Court ordered for both parties to negotiate and agree to a settlement. However, in the event of a deadlock in negotiations, a deadlock breaker – Group CEO Shameel Joosub –  would then step in to make a final decision on the offer, Nyoka explained.

Makate would have to approach the courts and show whether there are irregularities in the process Joosub followed or that he was “manifestly unjust” in the decision, he added.

Various public figures have since come out to bat for Makate, including Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi and Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams while a #PleaseCallMe Movement has also emerged. The movement, together with ANC Liliesleaf Farm Branch, staged a protest outside the company’s headquarters in Midrand on Thursday, prompting Vodacom to shut its doors for the day.

But, Netshitenzhe said on Friday that Vodacom’s final product was different to the one proffered by Makate.

“The Please Call me matter between Mr Maka and Vodacom started in the early 2000 when he approached his supervisor with an idea that mutated into a Please Call Me service. After canvassing the idea within the company, Please Call Me was launched as a free service for subscribers so did not generate direct revenue.

“However, before launching the product, Vodacom had to assess the idea for technical feasibility and commercial viability and the final product was different from the idea submitted by Mr. Makate.

“The initial plan to charge for the service was abandoned by the company. It is also noteworthy to mention that, Please Call Me was launched in the month after MTN launched its version called ‘Call Me’.

“Ari Kahn, who consulted for MTN created the ‘Call Me’ technology in 2000 and the SA Patent office granted the Call Me patent to Kahn and MTN on 22 January 2001,” said Netshitenzhe.

She said a legal dispute then ensued when Vodacom rejected Makete’s requests for compensation on the basis that it believed that there was no agreement between the two parties.

“Further, in terms of company practice, Vodacom had never paid a staff member for an idea and rewards exceptional performance which includes the introduction of innovations by staff members through the annual Chief Executive Officer awards.”

She said following several court matters, the Constitutional Court eventually ruled that there was in fact an agreement between Vodacom and Makate, however there was no clear agreement in terms of the amount that should be paid for the idea and that “reasonable compensation” should be negotiated between the parties. The court then ruled that should a deadlock, the Vodacom Group CEO must determine the final amount.

Vodacom Group CEO Shameel Joosub then did this and the company considered the matter closed. This amount is confidential in terms of a confidentiality agreement which was signed by both parties.

“Accordingly, Vodacom is willing and ready to pay Mr Makate,” Netshitenzhe said.

“However, we have been notified by Mr Makate’s lawyers that they have been instructed by Mr Makate to take the determination of the CEO on judicial review and this is where we are now.”

She went on to say that Vodacom was, however, big enough to admit that it didn’t always get everything right.

“And where we get anything wrong, we humble ourselves and tender our apologies as we did in this saga on numerous occasions,” she said. Fin24