Picture: Siphelele Dludla/African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town - Did Nkosana Makate really invent the Please Call Me service and is the service worth the R70 billion which the public believes Vodacom should pay him?

These questions have sparked fierce debate on social media on the same day that hundreds of people gathered to show their support for the inventor.

Makate's case has been a hot topic since earlier this month when Vodacom allegedly offered him a confidential settlement. His refusal set in motion a chain of events which included Vodacom saying they actually copied the idea for the value-added service from competitors MTN.

Former MTN technician Ari Khan told Radio 702 on Thursday that the idea originated with him and that MTN holds the patent for it. According to Khan, Vodacom had acknowledged to him in private that they had not acted on the idea sent to them by Makate and had opted to copy MTN's service instead. 

Khan says that MTN made a decision not to enforce the intellectual property rights conferred on them as the holders of the patent.

Speaking on Radio 702 on Thursday Chris Schoeman, a former Makate funder, claimed that Vodacom had offered a R49 million settlement but that Makate had accrued debts in excess of this amount and therefore was forced to hold for more. Schoeman also said he was entitled to part of the settlement because he had paid part of Makate's legal fees and was pushing for him to accept Vodacom's "more than generous" offer.

Interestingly, all of these allegations against Makate have been levelled at a time when Vodacom is at risk of suffering significant damage to its brand if the public continues to rally behind him. Whether they are true or not remains to be seen.

Earlier on Thursday, Vodacom was forced to close some of its Gauteng stores as protests over its Please Call Me messaging service intensified after a 10 am deadline to pay inventor Nkosana Makate passed with no word of a settlement.

A protest at the company's Midrand offices was organised by the #PleaseCallMeMovement, which has demanded a R70 billion settlement from the cellular service giant for Makate. 

Makate has been locked in a battle with Vodacom since 2007. In 2016, the Constitutional Court ordered Vodacom and Makate to start negotiations for a reasonable settlement. 

Earlier this month, the company said its chief executive Shameel Joosub had reached an agreement with Makate's lawyers on a “reasonable compensation” for the Please Call Me service. Makate vehemently denied this, sparking an outpouring of support for him from the South African public.