‘Please call me’ in­ven­tor in­sulted by Vo­da­com deal of­fer


NKOSANA Makate, the man cred­ited with in­vent­ing the “Please Call

Me” call-back ser­vice, has called a com­pen­sa­tion deal by his for­mer em­ployer, Vo­da­com, an in­sult.

Vo­da­com, ac­cord­ing to Makate, gave him the of­fer on Wed­nes­day, of what they are re­fer­ring to as “rea­son­able com­pen­sa­tion”.

“There is ab­so­lutely no agree­ment. This is an in­sult, and it is shock­ing. It is hor­ren­dous,” said Makate.

He added that he was in a meet­ing with his le­gal team to see what op­tions were avail­able to him.

The deal comes al­most a decade after Makate started court pro­ceed­ings against Vo­da­com for credit and fi­nan­cial com­pen­sa­tion for the ser­vice that al­lows cus­tomers with a zero bal­ance on their mo­bile phones to con­tact some­one free of charge with the SMS mes­sage ‘Please Call Me’.

Makate came up with the idea to de­velop the ser­vice, al­though a for­mer chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer first took credit for the prod­uct.

“Vo­da­com can con­firm that the group CEO has met with the le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tives to con­vey his de­ci­sion and de­ter­mi­na­tion on rea­son­able com­pen­sa­tion,” spokesper­son By­ron Kennedy said in re­sponse to ques­tions. “In the spirit of the con­fi­den­tial­ity agree­ment both par­ties signed as part of the ne­go­ti­at­ing process, Vo­da­com will not dis­close the amount set by the CEO.”

Makate added in a state­ment: “Vo­da­com has not apol­o­gised for their de­spi­ca­ble con­duct for the past 18 years as found by the Con­sti­tu­tional Court.” He did not say what was of­fered by Vo­da­com.

Makate, 42, took the idea to Vo­da­com’s prod­uct-de­vel­op­ment team while he was work­ing in the fi­nance di­vi­sion in the early 2000s.

Alan Knott-craig, who was the CEO at the time, had to de­ter­mine rea­son­able com­pen­sa­tion for the idea, which didn’t hap­pen then.

After lengthy court pro­ceed­ings and a dead­lock in ne­go­ti­a­tions in Oc­to­ber last year, cur­rent CEO Shameel Joosub has now de­cided on fair com­pen­sa­tion for the idea.

About 140 000 cus­tomers made use of the ser­vice on its first day in op­er­a­tion. An ini­tial de­vel­op­ment plan in 2001 for ‘Please Call Me’ said Vo­da­com could make as much as $23 mil­lion a day from peo­ple us­ing the ser­vice. How­ever, Vo­da­com’s to­tal rev­enue rose by about

R3.6 bil­lion in the 2003 fi­nan­cial year.

“Vo­da­com con­sid­ers the mat­ter as fi­nally set­tled and closed,” said Kennedy.

Makate said he has been fight­ing Vo­da­com for 18 years and that he felt that the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions gi­ant was try­ing to wear him down.

“What I can say is that this process has made me stronger,” Makate said. “If I was paid what I was owed I would be sit­ting in the Ba­hamas or the Isle of Wight by now.”

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