Pretoria - What Vodacom once described as a brilliant idea led to the betrayal of its inventor, legal counsel acting for “Please Call Me” inventor Nkosana Makate argued yesterday
In the saga that has been going on for nearly 21 years, Makate again turned to court to get what he claimed was owed to him – not the R47 million as calculated by Vodacom, but rather closer to R10 billion, without interest.
The Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, is presiding over Makate’s review application over the next three days in which he is asking that the R47m which Vodacom claimed is owed to him be reviewed and set aside.
While counsel are presenting their case from offices at Menlyn Corporate Park, Judge Wendy Hughes is hearing the matter virtually.
Armed with a hefty team of senior advocates, Makate told the Pretoria News he is confident about the success of his application.
The court is asked to review the compensation offered to him as calculated by Vodacom chief executive Shameel Joosub.
This followed a ruling by the Constitutional Court in 2016 in which Vodacom was ordered to enter into negotiations with Makate to find fair compensation.
Advocate Gilbert Marcus, who kicked off the legal battle on behalf of Makate, said he did not use the word “betrayal” lightly, but this was such a case. He said that while Vodacom was raking in huge profits from the invention and was “smiling all the way to the bank”, they left “no smile on Makate’s face”.
Judge Hughes was told that although Vodacom at first regarded the invention as brilliant, when it came to compensation the cellphone giant sang a different tune.
While it was all around agreed that Makate was owed 5% of the proceeds generated from his invention, the disagreement lied in what constitutes revenue generated from the invention.
This is an accounting exercise, his legal team told the court, and one which they submitted Vodacom got wrong.
This saga began in November 2000, when Makate – then a young trainee accountant at Vodacom – came up with a genius idea. At the time, Vodacom described the idea as “a world first” and recognised that it was all “thanks to Kenneth Makate”, Marcus said.
The idea was sparked when Makate, more than 20 years ago, had a long-distance relationship with his now wife, who was a student then. As communication was difficult at the time, he came up with the invention, Marcus said.
“Makate was promised compensation. It is common cause that Vodacom has earned billions of rand from Mr Makate’s idea. Despite the product being such an overwhelming success, Vodacom refused to negotiate compensation for the use of the idea,” Marcus said.
After attempts by Makate to negotiate with Vodacom on his compensation were rebuked, he turned to the courts.
“The various judgments make clear that for most of the last 20 years, Vodacom has sought to slither away from paying Makate what he is due,” Marcus said.
The Makate camp told Judge Hughes that the R47m compensation set by Vodacom should be replaced by at least nearly R10bn without interest.
According to them, this court should determine the compensation due to him, given the calculations forwarded to the court by Makate’s team.
This, they said, would avoid further delay finalising this legal process that has taken the best part of a decade.
Vodacom, who is opposing the review application, said in its opposing papers: “As long as Mr Joosub (the chief executive) arrived at his decision honestly and in good faith, there is no basis upon which a court may interfere.”
Vodacom is expected to present its arguments today as well as provide the basis for their calculations on which it relied in determining that Makate was only owed R47m.