Vodacom’s actions are ‘sabotage and abuse of power’


Analysts have accused vodacom of abuse of power as the company uses courts to avoid compensating Nkosana Makate for his “Please Call Me” idea. Picture: Timothy Bernard African News Agency (ANA)

Published Feb 11, 2024


VODACOM has come under fire for its defiance after deciding to take its fight with Nkosana Makate, “inventor” of the “Please Call Me” service, on review to the Constitutional Court.

This emanates from a 23-year-old legal battle between South Africa’s leading giant telecommunications operator and Makate who have been at loggerheads over compensation for the service, which an earlier Constitutional Court judgment had found Makate had invented, despite claims it was invented at MTN.

After the Supreme Court of Appeal on Tuesday rejected an appeal brought by Vodacom against an earlier High Court judgment that found it had not offered Makate enough share for the service.

Vodacom said it was “surprised and disappointed with the judgment and would bring an application for leave to appeal before the constitutional court of South Africa”.

Please Call Me inventor Nkosana Makate. Picture: ANA

Various analysts have expressed their disappointment with the operator citing “sabotage and abuse of power” by Vodocam.

Dr Stanley Maphosa, a social scientist and volunteer at the Citizen Movement said Makate needed the support of all South Africans as Vodacom continued to play power games.

“It is a complex case that is in the nexus of the legal and ethical context. It involves intellectual property rights and fair compensation. The case does not take into consideration the social, economic, and emotional ramifications for Nkosana Makate and his family.

“My thoughts are that Vodacom is playing a power game as a large corporation pitied against an individual who is their former employee and is clearly the originator of a famous idea.

“Makate has been backed up by courts, but Vodacom keeps shifting goalposts, wasting time and making him incur legal costs. This is sabotage and abuse of power on the side of Vodacom.

“The ‘S’ in the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) framework expect Vodacom to act responsibly towards its employees and their rights and dignity.”

Maphosa said that it was unfortunate that a large number of people had faced similar or related issues, which they could not challenge due to fear, lack of funding, lack of knowledge, and confidence.

“To address cases like Nkosana Makate's, where African victims face impunity from big companies like Vodacom, regulatory bodies and legal frameworks need to be strengthened to ensure fair treatment and accountability.

“Additionally, promoting transparency, implementing effective dispute resolution mechanisms, and providing accessible legal assistance can help victims seek recourse against such injustices.

Maphosa felt that the Makate case, would go into the legal history books of South Africa as one of the cruellest corporate attempts to suck the sweat, blood, life and intellectual property of people and then dump them like useless rags.

Independent political analyst and senior lecturer at the University of Limpopo Dr Metji Makgoba also weighed in and said Vodacom had “committed a crime”.

“Corporate theft is connected to the mechanism of neo-slavery and racial capitalism in which white corporations exploit black people and their ideas with aggression and a shameless sense of entitlement.

“The theft of ideas in the ICT space is a common practice. These corporations know that they can use different tactics such as corporate spying, and intimidation to achieve their criminal mission of bullying their victims.

“Because most of them steal from black powerless people and they succeed in their criminal mission and robbery by using their legal and financial muscles.

“They also lobby the media to make sure that journalists write negatively about their victims. Makate's case is isolated. White corporations steal from black people by exploiting their ideas without compensation.

“Fortunately, with Makate, they did it against someone who is a maverick, determined, resilient, visionary, and patient. His energy has been encouraging. He is fighting for many black people who are the victims of corporate theft.

“Initially, Vodacom treated him as a crazy black person who is unrealistic, and mentally unwell, hoping that the stereotypes against black people as non-thinkers and non-creators would be on their side,” Makgoba said.

Makgoba further said that the criminal justice system was “pro-rich and, by default, pro-white” and felt that under the current system, there was no support for victims of corporate theft.

“Makate is an exception. He has fought his battle individually. Vodacom was caught by surprise and was sure that he would back down and retreat, but he did not. Cases of this nature drain the victims mentally, emotionally, and financially. Corporations usually use their legal and financial muscle to frustrate their victims,” he said.

Echoing Makgoba’s sentiments, independent political analyst Professor Sipho Seepe said: “The matter relates to the white supremacist agenda by the white world's commitment to de-recognise the genius of African people. Had he been white, Makate would have been celebrated. His sin is claiming what is due to him”.

He further said that the second aspect of the white supremacist agenda was to harass and wear him down through litigation any African who defined himself outside the parameters set by the white supremacists.

“This is an ongoing agenda of delegitimising Africans. Unfortunately, the white supremacist agenda can count on using some Africans against their own.

“The Constitutional Court could have been decisive in dealing with this matter. I sense that some of us operate under the influence of the supremacist agenda. Vodacom is counting on such Africans,” said Seepe.

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